We’ve finally arrived at my second favorite annual event that elevates goofy-looking animals to celebrity status for a day. That’s right: Groundhog Day! If you will recall from last November, my absolute favorite annual event is the Presidential turkey pardoning. Should you be curious, that spectacle’s origin is well documented in the Pulitzer-quality blog post here. But, I digress. Let’s turn our attention back to groundhogs.
Groundhog Day is, of course, a holiday in which people get up early to stand around outside in the cold and watch a groundhog be ceremoniously pulled from its hibernation hole. If it does not see its shadow, then an early spring is expected. Otherwise, there’s six more weeks of winter weather and the groundhog can go back to bed. The idea that an over-sized ground squirrel can evoke its advanced marmot powers to predict the weather is awesome all by itself. However, this seemingly silly ceremony has surprisingly deep historical roots.
February 2 marks the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. Old German folklore connected this day with hedgehogs seeing their shadows since hedgehogs are a native species to Germany and emerge from hibernation around this time of year. Upon settling in Pennsylvania, German immigrants were dismayed to learn that hedgehogs were not indigenous to the area. However, native groundhogs have a similar hibernation schedule. As a result, groundhogs became an acceptable substitution in the tradition (besides, they both have ‘hog’ in their names).
Since 1887, residents of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania make a pilgrimage to Gobbler’s Knob to see if groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil will see its shadow. This furry prognosticator has 115 predictions on record so far with StormFax Weather Almanac. It indicates that Phil has a 39% accuracy rate and has only predicted an “early spring” 15 times (13%).
Although Phil is the most popular Groundhog Day representative, he is not the only one. Other upstarts including Buckeye Chuck in Ohio, General Beauregard Lee from Georgia, Staten Island Chuck, a Canadian albino rat named Wiarton Willie, and Nova Scotia’s Shubenacadie Sam also make annual predictions. By far, the silliest animals to get in on the gig are Mount Dora Mike and Mount Dora Millie from Florida. They’re a prognosticating tortoise-and-hare duo.
As a side note, the awesome Bill Murry movie Groundhog Day was not actually filmed in Punxsutawney. The movie was primarily shot in Woodstock, Illinois. If you don’t mind getting up early for a short road trip, Woodstock has a great lineup of events planned for Groundhog Day. Check it out. Just don’t drive angry.