As the calendar flips to February, the cold, dark days of winter weigh heavily and visions of cherry blossoms begin popping into people's heads. Clearly, these people are not skiers, since some of the best powder days are just ahead... but, for many, the annual celebration of Groundhog Day is their chance to see just how much more winter is ahead. On this day, as tradition has it, if the groundhog emerges from his or her den and sees a shadow (i.e. it's sunny out), the groundhog retreats back underground for 6 more weeks of cold, bitter winter. But, if the lovable woodchuck sees no shadow (i.e. it's cloudy), then spring is not far away.
This unusual weather forecasting tradition seems to have been made popular by the people of Pennsylvania. Indeed, the largest festival in the country is held in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, with Punxsutawney Phil (the groundhog) featured in the celebration. The movie Groundhog Day (1993) starring Bill Murray made this town's special holiday internationally famous. In Punxsutawney, a group called the Inner Circle treks up Gobler's Knob, where Punxsutawney Phil reveals the predictive forecast to the President of the Inner Circle.
But other places and animals have claimed their own weather-predicting powers. In Alaska, for example, it's called Marmot Day, enacted officially by Governor Sarah Palin in 2000. In Serbia, on the holiday called <1>Sretenje, they use bears to predict the weather.
The history of this animalistic, weather-psychic holiday may stem from an ancient Christian holiday called Candlemas, held on February 2nd. A traditional poem read on this holiday gives us a clue:
If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Come, Winter, have another flight;
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Go Winter, and come not again.
In Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, a group of 15 town leaders (men) who proclaim themselves as The Inner Circle have been leveraging the weather-predicting powers of Phil the Woodchuck for 130 years as of 2016. German immigrants in Pennsylvania made this tradition a holiday in the 18th and 19th centuries. Phil, by the way, has about a 39% accuracy rate. Indeed, the ancient roots of this tradition go back to Germany, where the hedgehog was anointed with predictive powers.
The reality is that February 2nd sits at just about 7 weeks before the first day of Spring in the northern hemisphere. The custom of using a woodchuck to predict the arrival of Spring may stem from the confusion between two calendar systems, related to the Vernal Equinox.
- A woodchuck or other animal that has its den underground
- Someone to observe the behavior of the ground-dwelling creature, who emerges and either goes back underground or frolics above ground
StepsIf you really want to do Groundhog Day right, get yourself to Punxsutawney, PA.
- Arrive by January 30th for Breakfast with Phil, where you can meet the world famous woodchuck and have your picture taken with the Inner Circle
- On February 2nd, Trek up Gobler's Knob with the Inner Circle to find out what the rodent has to say
- Participate in a bunch of other events and activities. For a complete list go to GroundhogDay.org