Thursday, February 2, 2012

Which Groundhog are you going to believe?

Image of Punxsutawney Phil from an LA Times Article
It’s Groundhog Day!  In case you had not heard: This morning Punxsutawney Phil, the world’s most famous groundhog, saw his shadow and thus predicted six more weeks of winter.  For some of the blow back on Phil’s prediction this year, check out his Facebook Page.

The roots of Groundhog Day are found in the German tradition of Candlemas Day (during the Christmas season) when their clergy would distribute candles to the poor to use in the winter.  How many candles would be needed?  Well, let’s ask an animal.  The early Germanic people chose the hedgehog.  When German immigrants came to America (a bunch to Pennsylvania) they replaced the hedgehog with the groundhog, or as some call it the woodchuck, which were abundant here.  Punxsutawney Phil has become the most famous groundhog not just because of the movie.  Back in 1887, a newspaper editor that belonged to the “Punxsutawney Groundhog Club” – whose members liked the sport of hunting groundhogs – said that their groundhog, Phil was the only true weather forecasting rodent.  A long line of Phils have been honored at an annual party on Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania ever since.

I’ve really enjoyed the tongue-in-cheek hoopla surrounding Groundhog Day ever since I saw the 1993 movie of the same name starring Bill Murray.  Even more so since moving to Pennsylvania, a state that is teeming with the cute little rodents.  We even have one that lives in the field behind our house and occasionally comes up to the yard to forage.

Although Phil will not admit that he is ever wrong about the coming of an early spring, almost every human would agree that he is, in fact, wrong about half the time.  Perhaps we should consult some other groundhog?  We’re in luck!  In order to get in on the fun and the tourist dollars, many cities across the country have their own weather prognosticating woodchucks.  There’s Birmingham Bill and Staten Island Chuck.  There’s Woodstock Willie and Dunkirk Dave.  There’s even Shubenacadie Sam up in Canada, eh?

Central Pennsylvania has an overwhelming number of these weather hogs that sometimes have trouble agreeing on how much more winter we’re going to have this year.  In York County, Dover Doug and Poor Richard are both opting for an early spring.  So is Patty Pagoda over in Reading, as did Octoraro Orphie from Quarryville, Lancaster County.  On the other hand, Mount Joy Minnie, also from Lancaster County, and Uni from Lebanon County both predict six more weeks of winter.  Grover and Sweet Arrow, recent newlyweds from Schuylkill County also join Phil in predicting six more weeks of cold. (But I really don’t know what they base that on, since it was reported that they didn’t even get out of bed this morning to see if their shadow was there or not!)

So, calendar wise we surely have six more weeks of winter.  Spring will arrive on March 20th.  But as to whether or not we have to deal with more cold and snow, I guess we could ask an animal.  But in the end, which groundhog are you going to believe? 

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