The Oddities of Groundhog Day
Last year on Groundhog Day, Punxsutawney Phil came out of his burrow and called for an early spring, marking a rare occurrence for the furry friend. Since 1886, Phil has only forecasted an early spring 13% of the time. Let’s hope that today’s unseasonably warm weather is an indicator of what Phil will have to say when tomorrow morning comes.
For most of us, Groundhog Day is either an amusingly silly holiday to get our hopes up for warm weather, or a comedic film from 1993 starring Bill Murray. For those living in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, however, Groundhog Day is a traditional celebration dating back as early as 1886, which was the first year that the town’s biggest celebrity, Punxsutawney Phil, made a holiday weather prediction. The holiday itself is said to have ties even further back in time with some of Pennsylvania’s earliest German settlers.
Every year, thousands flock to Punxsutawney to gather outside Phil’s burrow on Gobbler’s Knob to await his famous weather proclamation. According to legend, if the little guy sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of cold and snowy winter weather, but if he does not see his shadow, there will be an early spring. The Inner Circle of the Groundhog’s Club is the group of men in top hats that you may have seen on television handling Phil or planning various Groundhog-related events throughout the year in Punxsutawney.
How do we know whether Phil has seen his shadow or not? According to Punxsutawney legend, Phil tells his forecast to the current Inner Circle’s President, the only human that is able to understand Phil’s language, “Groundhogese.”
Although most groundhogs only live to be 6-8 years old, Phil is said to be making his 126th Groundhog Day announcement this year. Every summer at Punxsutawney’s annual Groundhog Picnic, Phil is said to drink a secret magical punch which is supposed to add seven years to his lifespan. Punxsutawney residents are proud of their groundhog and stand by claims of his longevity. They believe that Phil’s predictions are always correct, although the Stormfax Weather Almanac claims that he has only been right 39% of the time.
Besides Phil, there are other prognosticating groundhogs out there, the most noteworthy including General Beauregard Lee of Georgia, Staten Island Chuck, and Wiarton Willie of Ontario. Punxsutawney residents claim that all of these other groundhogs are frauds.
While Punxsutawney Phil traditionally makes weather predictions, he has also been known to make political statements during critical points in American history. During Prohibition, Phil threatened 60 weeks of winter if he was not permitted to drink. In 1942 during World War II, Phil claimed to only see a partial shadow, adding that, “War clouds have blacked out parts of the shadow.” In 1958, at the time of the Space Race, Phil shot down common belief that Russia’s Sputnik was the first man-made satellite orbiting Earth, instead asserting that it was “The United States’ Chucknik.” Phil demonstrated American spirit by donning a yellow ribbon at the time of the American Hostage Crisis in Iran in 1981. Phil has met with numerous political figures including Pennsylvania governors and President Ronald Regan. His prediction has been projected on the JumboTron in Times Square and he even appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show. With the United States evolving, Phil has evolved as well. Last year was the first time that many signed up to receive text message updates regarding Phil’s legendary forecast.
Whether you decide to believe in the holiday hoopla of Punxsutawney Phil or deem it all a falsehood is up to you, but Punxsutawney’s traditions certainly give us hope for warmer temperatures to come. For more information on this annual celebration, visit www.groundhog.org.