In this age of advanced technological advancement, what does it tell us about us as a people when we turn to a groundhog to predict our weather? It might tell us that we as a people are always searching for an excuse to have a party because millions of us in the United States and Canada will be partying on Feb. 2, Groundhog Day.
Early European Christians celebrated Candlemas on Feb. 2, which is 40 days after Christmas, and is the halfway point between the winter and spring equinoxes. Superstitious farmers believed that what the hedgehog did on that day was a prediction of the weather to come.
In the 1700’s when there was a huge movement of German immigrant farmers into Pennsylvania, the tradition of the groundhog was brought with them. The groundhog, which is a member of the squirrel family, was substituted for the hedgehog used in Europe simply because the groundhog was similar to the hedgehog and much more plentiful in Pennsylvania.
In Alaska, Feb. 2 is known as Marmot Day instead of Groundhog Day because there are very few groundhogs in that state but the celebration is the same.
According to folk lore, if the groundhog comes out and sees his shadow, it will retreat back into the burrow where it will stay for another six weeks, thereby indicating that winter will remain. If the day is cloudy and the groundhog can not see its shadow, spring and warmer weather will be on the way.
These indications were taken seriously as it was important for the farmers to know whether to take a chance and plant the crops or be cautious and wait for signs of better weather so groups gathered on the early morning of Feb. 2 to see what the future held.
Many towns and cities throughout the United States and Canada celebrate Groundhog Day annually with food, music and parades and have their own groundhog.
These groundhogs have individual names such as Spanish Joe from Spanish, Ontario; French Creek Freddie from French Creek, West Virginia; Fred from Val d’Espoir, Quebec and Sir Walter Wally of Raleigh, N.C.
Closer to home, celebrity groundhogs include Gus from Athens, Ga.; Smith Lake Jake from Graysville; and General Beauregard Lee from Lilburn, Ga.
The best known groundhog is Punxsutawney Phil of Punxsutawney, Penn., due mainly to the publicity from being featured in the Walt Disney movie “Groundhog Day.” In this movie, the main character was forced to relive the day until such time as he could become a better person and leave his selfish ways.
Today, the words “Groundhog Day” have come to mean going through some ordeal until the person overcomes it, such as becoming unselfish.
The largest celebration of Groundhog Day is celebrated in Punxsutawney where crowds in excess of 40,000 may gather. Other large celebrations are held throughout the country even in Texas where the University of Dallas in Irving, Texas, has taken Groundhog Day as an official holiday and organizes a large celebration each year to celebrate.
Groundhog Day enthusiasts maintain that Phil’s predictions are accurate 75 percent to 90 percent of the time, a fact reputed by a Canadian report that showed only a 37 percent accuracy, which they point out could be achieved by simply flipping a coin but a National Climatic Data Center is reported to give an accuracy rate of 61 percent.
It is doubtful that many groups gather in this twenty-first century to seriously consider the groundhog predictions but it is as good an excuse as any to party.
It might be a good time to remember the new meaning of Groundhog Day and mend your ways. If nothing else, Groundhog Day can be an interesting way to start the day.
Bita Bullet is the pen name of a local anonymous writer who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org