There is one day a year when Americans turn to a small mammal to predict the weather, Groundhog Day. It’s the day we celebrate the American tradition of finding out if there will be six more weeks of winter
Thousands will converge on the small Pennsylvania town of Punxsutawney to see if Punxsutawney Phil will emerge from his temporary burrow and see his shadow. If that happens, winter weather will continue across the United States. But if Phil doesn’t see his shadow, spring temperatures are on the way.
Groundhog Day is derived from ancient Christian and Roman customs in Germany, where Europeans celebrated Candlemas, a holiday marking the Virgin Mary’s presentation of Jesus at the Temple in Jerusalem 40 days after his birth. Candlemas is observed on Feb. 2nd. If there were clear skis on that usually meant an extended winter. German immigrants brought the rituals to the U.S.
Punxsutawney Phil was named an official immortal oracle in 1887 by a group of groundhog hunters from Punxsutawney. Rivals such as Staten Island Chuck and Gen. Beauregard Lee have tried to undermine his fame, but Phil has maintained his cultural significance.
For those who refuse to believe in the fantasy of Phil’s immortality are right. Groundhogs in captivity typically live no longer than 10 years. And the U.S. National Climatic Data Center has found that Phil is only correct about 40% of the time.
Ah, well, it inspired a great movie!
Phil Connors: (to the groundhog) “Don’t drive angry! Don’t drive angry!”
Phil Connors: When Chekhov saw the long winter, he saw a winter bleak and dark and bereft of hope. Yet we know that winter is just another step in the cycle of life. But standing here among the people of Punxsutawney and basking in the warmth of their hearths and hearts, I couldn’t imagine a better fate than a long and lustrous winter.