Did Punxsutawney Phil’s see his shadow this morning? If he did, it’s six more weeks of Winter for us!
Groundhog Day is my favorite day of the year! No, I’m not kidding. I love ground hogs (did you know that they are part of the marmot family)? How can you not love a holiday that celebrates the notion that Spring is on the way? The feature is a cute, furry animal, and you don’t have to give gift, sing songs, perform rituals, or decorate, unless you really want to. Unlike the horrid Christmas sweater, I have yet to find a “groundhog day” sweaters to make the day more “festive.” It is traditional to send a groundhog day greeting to friends, so this is mine, to you!
If you are a weather man or woman on the East Coast, however, Groundhog Day might be your most dreaded day of the year. The weatherperson is usually assigned to cover the official Groundhog Day festivities in Punxsutawney Pennsylvania. I have been there and it’s in the middle of nowhere. But worse than that, you’ll have to bundle up really really well, and stand atop the freezing cold Gobblers Knob, before daylight, waiting with a large bunch of truly fanatic folks, for a bunch of guys in top hats to “hear” whether or not Punxsutawney ‘Phil” thinks we’re in for an early Spring, or six more weeks of Winter. If he sees his shadow, there are six more weeks of Winter on the way. Once the large group of very cold but enthusiastic onlookers, news crews and weatherpeople have seen Phil’s official handler determine if the groundhog has seen his shadow, it’s time to party (or race back to a nice, warm room).
The prognostication by a groundhog on February 2nd is nothing new (more on that in a minute) and there are a few ”famous” groundhog prognosticators. Whether you’re a fan of Punxsutawney Phil (my hero!) or one of the popular pretenders to his throne (um…burrow) such as General Beauregard Lee in Georgia, or Staten Island Chuck in New York Dunkirk Dave in Upstate New York, Shubenacadie Sam or Wiarton Willie in Canada, or Peewee the Woodchuck in Vermont, as far as I’m concerned, after February 2nd, Spring is on the way.
The Origins of GroundHog Day: So why is February 2nd officially GroundHog Day, and Why is the groundhog (one word, not two) the spokesanimal? Here’s the story behind the famous forecaster and why his wild relatives snooze over the winter months:
Groundhog Day (February 2nd) has it’s roots in a European tradition that if a hibernating animal (usually a hedgehog) casts a shadow February 2nd (Candlemas) then winter will last another six weeks. If no shadow is seen, Spring will come early! The legend states: “For as the sun shines on Candlemas Day, so far will the snow swirl in May…” When German settles came to Pennsylvania’s to settle early in America’s history, they continued the tradition, exchanging the hedgehog for the more abundant, groundhog. In reality, ground hogs hibernate, but the males come out of their burrows in early February to do something of great importance to the continuation of the species. They scent mark their territory for mating season, which begins in mid-February, soon after the animals emerge from hibernation. Pregnancy lasts 31-33 days and the single, annual litter of 2 to 9 pups is born toward the end of March or early April. Most groundhogs have a short lifespan, but some have lived 6 years or more. A ground hog named “Nitche Ned” who lives under my fire pit, has raised a family there, and we’ve seen him several years in a row.
Whatever you believe about Groundhog Day, it’s a fact that by February 2nd, the stress of the holiday season has passed, and even if it’s still cold, the days are getting longer by a bit, each day. Spring is coming!
This year, PHIL SAW HIS SHADOW, SO WE’RE IN FOR SIX MORE WEEKS OF WINTER (but I think all of us felt that coming, anyway). So to cheer you up, here’s a video of Phil’s prognostication, courtesy of the Washington Post.
*this post but not the video–that’s new for 2014, is reprised from ground hog day 2013, by Alison Blackman Dunham