This Saturday, February 2nd, Americans will look to the groundhog to predict the future; the future of the weather, that is. For over 125 years the furry rodent has been announcing the arrival or non-arrival of spring, making a personal appearance from his celebrated burrow to bring clarity to the issue.
Folklore says that if skies are cloudy when the groundhog emerges from its burrow then spring will come early. Conversely, if it is sunny, the groundhog will see its shadow and beat a hasty retreat, leaving mankind to endure another six weeks of winter.
The legend of ‘Punxsutawney Phil’
While Groundhog Day is popular in many parts of the country, the title of Official Groundhog Prognosticator falls to ‘Punxsutawney Phil.’ Phil has been electrifying crowds in Punxsutawney, PA for years. Punxsutawney is the site of the most high profile Groundhog Day event in the U.S. According to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, established in 1887 and host to the festivities,
‘Phil is the only true weather forecasting groundhog. The others are just imposters.’
As with any other star, Punxsutawney Phil is not just any groundhog. Legend has it that he was named after King Philip. In fact, according to the Club, Phil has been prognosticating in Punxsutawney for over a century. Phil attributes his longevity to the ‘elixir of life,’ a secret recipe he has been drinking since his very first appearance.
Gobbler’s Knob is the official residence of the bewhiskered mascot and it is from this spot that he will be making his 127th official prediction. The event attracts thousands of people each year as well as national media attention. The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club is the hub for all things groundhog. Festivities surrounding Groundhog Day include the ‘Inner Circle’s’ Groundhog Ball, Breakfast with Phil and the Annual Groundhog Banquet. This year the event organizers anticipate the biggest crowd to date.
If the name Punxsutawney rings a bell, it was the setting for the 1993 film classic, “Groundhog Day’ starring Bill Murray and Andy McDowell. The film tells the story of an egocentric TV weatherman who falls into a time loop while covering the Punxsutawney event. He is forced to relive the same day over and over.
A bite out of history
Groundhog Day began as a Pennsylvania German custom in southeastern and central PA in the 18th and 19th centuries. Ancient European lore had a badger or bear predicting the coming of spring. The first German immigrants settling in PA substituted the groundhog.
The tradition dates from an even more ancient celebration that marks the midpoint of winter, or the day that falls halfway between the shortest day and the spring equinox, when the day and night are of equal length. It is also related to the Christian festival of lights, Candlemas Day, celebrated on February 2. Candlemas marks the day when candles to be used in the coming year are brought into the church and blessed.
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