Groundhog day. My husband was surprised to read that it wasn’t just an amusing movie but an actual American holiday. As I tried to explain the significance and started showing him the list of groundhogs with silly names it occurred to me that it is a “cute” holiday. I can see the look on his face, someone proud to be part of a country with such a strong viking-filled history, the look of sympathy. This made me coyly laugh and admit that it must seem like the baby country of 235 years made up such an adorable little holiday to play with. And so, lets delve into Groundhog day, for those who are not familiar with this American tradition.
On February 2nd we listen to a groundhog for guidance in the form of weather advise. What the heck is a groundhog you might ask if you are from Sweden. Well, they are also known as woodchucks, ya know the tongue twister:
How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
A woodchuck would chuck all the wood he could
if a woodchuck could chuck wood!
They however do not eat wood. Or chuck it. They are large furry low land dwelling rodents that live in North America in the comfort of their own hole.
Groundhog day is based on whether or not the groundhog will emerge from his burrow or see his shadow and retreat back inside. If the groundhog sees his shadow (Meaning it is a sunny day) this predicts that winter will last another 6 weeks. If it is a cloudy day and there is no shadow to be seen then Spring will arrive early. To me this tradition seems a bit reversed, as when I think of spring time arriving I think of the sun beaming.
Now here is the strange part, each state has its own official groundhog (or several in different towns), like a “mascot.” Naturally each of these furry critters deserves a name, and what fun names they have! Some are more original than others…Lets list a few…and have a “chuckle”:
- Woody the Woodchuck
- Grady the Groundhog
- Chattanooga Chuck
- Sir Walter Wally
- Sir Thomas Hastings
- Mount Joy Minnie
- Patty Pagoda
- Woodstock Willie
- Dunkirk Dave
- Poor Richard
- Fred Val d’Espoir
- Punxsutawney Phil
The majority of the names are strictly based off of the town where the groundhog does its predicting, others are a bit more unique. Lots of Alliteration (Same first letter in each word) in the names. Two royal groundhogs dubbed “Sir,” and two that resemble names of strippers (Mount Joy Minnie & Patty Pagoda).
But one of them is THE infamous groundhog, and that is Punxsutawney Phil who resides in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania! This is Groundhog Day Central. The movie “Groundhog Day” was portrayed to take place in this town. The tradition originates here and is most celebrated here. Punxsutawney Phil is THE Groundhog we all listen to, he is the offical mascot of the holiday. What he says, go’s. Why we have other groundhogs, I don’t know - I guess for fun. Staten Island Chuck (The NYC groundhog, who by the way bite Mayor Bloomberg last year) indicated that spring will come early, but relatives I spoke to in NYC heard otherwise- because Punxsutawney Phil said Winter is here to stay! In Punxsutawney Pennsylvania thousands of people watch the festivities and the “Inner circle,” those who take care of Punxsutawney Phil all year round and organize the event all wear top hats and tuxedos to withhold tradition. And even though the life span of a groundhog in captivity is 9-14 years…Punxsutawney Phil is believed to be the original groundhog from the beginning. Yep, the myth is that Punxsutawney Phil is over 100 years old.
So, this all sounds crazy right? Silly Americans and their made up holidays acting silly with these animals. Wrong. We stole the tradition from Europe. Relying on animals to predict weather is nothing new, and neither is having a holiday or tradition based around it. This particular tradition comes from the German version of Candlemas, an originally religious holiday marking 40 days since Christmas which is now celebrated differently in different Countries.
In the UK the belief coincides with the tradition of Groundhog Day. “If Candlemas Day is clear and bright, / winter will have another bite. / If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain, / winter is gone and will not come again.” It is also said to be the day bears and wolves come out of hibernation to inspect the weather.
In France Candlemas is celebrated with Crepes and in Italy it is considered to be the last cold day of Winter.
There are so many Groundhogs to listen to, I don’t know who to believe but the numbers say that the predictions at accurate 75-90% of the time. Is that after the results are averaged? Or is that only Punxsutawney Phil’s track record? Does it only effect that state? The weather in the U.S.? It all seems very confusing to me, but there you have it- thats Groundhog Day in a nut shell.
Meanwhile a few days ago our local river started to freeze over, so maybe I’ll listen to that as a prediction for/proof of cold weather!