February 1st, 2013
Tomorrow, we will all be eagerly huddled around the wireless to hear the prognostication of Punxsutawney Phil as to whether or not we’ll get an Early Spring!
Ok, maybe not. But there is something fun and whimsical about Groundhog Day that we look forward to each year.
And for the kids out there, wireless is a radio, not what you connect your tablet device up to.
Groundhog Day is on February 2nd. This is also the same day as Imbolc which is an ancient Celtic holiday. The Christians call this day Candlemas.
The Europeans would often use a badger or a bear to predict the coming of Spring.
The celebration of Groundhog Day began with the Germans, Pennsylvania’s earliest settlers. They brought with them the legend of Candlemas Day, which states “For as the sun shines on Candlemas day, so far will the snow swirl in May…”. The settlers found that groundhogs were plentiful and were the most intelligent and sensible animal to carry on the legend of Candlemas Day.
In 1887, the “Punxsutawney Groundhog Club” bestowed the name on their groundhog, and then declared Punxsutawney the weather capital of the world. Before that, he was called Br’er Groundhog, and no one else laid claim to the weather capital.
His full title is Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators and Weather Prophet Extraordinary. And he is apparently the original groundhog. He survives thanks to the strong constitution of his wife, Phyllis, and a steady diet of Groundhog Punch.
As Uncle Cecil Adams says in his Straight Dope column:
Unfortunately, while this may be true as a general proposition, the predictive value of cloudy weather on February 2 basically stinks. According to Canadian Geographic weather columnist David Phillips, a multidecade, multicity study in Canada found that groundhog-driven predictions were right only 37 percent of the time. Which means, I guess, that you’d be right 63 percent of the time if you said good weather on February 2 meant good weather ahead. But what kind of weather proverb would that make? Better to be wrong but memorable than right but mundane.
For those of you with sharp eyes, yes, Uncle Cecil says 37%. This column was written in 1994. Wikipedia has it currently as 39%. Perhaps Punxsutawney Phil’s gotten better.
In southeastern Pennsylvania, Groundhog Lodges (Grundsow Lodges) celebrate the holiday with fersommlinge, social events in which food is served, speeches are made, and one or more g’spiel (plays or skits) are performed for entertainment. The Pennsylvania German dialect is the only language spoken at the event, and those who speak English pay a penalty, usually in the form of a nickel, dime, or quarter per word spoken, with the money put into a bowl in the center of the table.
Groundhogs spend the winter hibernating in a specially dug hibernation burrow, their breathing and heartbeats slowed to a snail’s pace, their body temperatures not too far above freezing. They survive the cold season in their below-frostline burrows living off the fat they stored up during the summer and fall. In warmer parts of the world, groundhogs hibernate for as little as three months, but in colder regions their sleep can last six months or more.
What’s your prediction? Early Spring or six more weeks of winter?