For some reason, not entirely sure why, I’ve always been a fan of Groundhog Day, maybe because it’s the first time when we can at least begin to contemplate spring. And I love spring. Plus it’s a fun, quirky sort of event/holiday when nothing else is happening and involves a furry critter. I also like the movie with Bill Murray. But back to the day, each winter, the quaint town of Punxsutawney, PA is host to thousands of visitors who wait two hours in line for the 3:00—6:00 AM shuttle to Gobblers Knob. Nine times out of ten that furry little marmot, Punxsutawney Phil, sees his shadow, and being easily alarmed, likely due to those overdressed guys snatching him from his snug home and jabbering to him in ‘groundhogease,’ he scurries back inside.
So, what does the famous Phil have to do with weather prediction? Groundhog Day is a direct descendent of Candlemas, an early Christian Holy day to bless and distribute candles, especially popular during those long dark winters. Somehow along the way, these cynical celebrants decided that clear skies on Candlemas meant a longer winter, which I never understood as I’d think one would be more inclined to hopefulness than if standing in a blizzard. But, oh well. By the time this tradition reached Germany, the groundhog and his shadow had entered the story. When the Germans came to Pennsylvania, they brought their traditions with them. Ever seeking an excuse for a party, these jolly folk came up with what we now celebrate as Groundhog Day.
That still leaves us with how Phil comes into it. According to the official website of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, “in 1887, a spirited group of groundhog hunters from Punxsutawney dubbed themselves “The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club.” One member of the club was an editor of Punxsutawney’s newspaper. Using his editorial clout, he proclaimed Punxsutawney Phil, the local groundhog, to be the one and only official weather prognosticating groundhog. He issued this proclamation on, appropriately enough, Groundhog Day. Punxsutawney Phil’s fame began to spread, and newspapers from around the globe began to report Punxsutawney Phil’s Groundhog Day predictions. Today, 20,000 fans come to Punxsutawney on Groundhog Day to experience this unique—and fun—tradition. For more information about the evolution of Groundhog Day and the story of Punxsutawney Phil, visit Punxsutawney’s official Groundhog site”