Punxsutawney Phil, the United States groundhog who predicts how long winter will last each year, probably has no idea why he's such a famous marmot. Perhaps you, too, have found yourself wondering why Groundhog Day is such a big deal. If so, keep reading.
As with most holidays, Groundhog Day's roots are tied to ancient traditions based on superstition. Early European Christians celebrated Candlemas 40 days after Christmas, or February 2. This day is the halfway point between the winter and spring equinoxes. Farmers began predicting that if the weather was sunny on Candlemas, they could expect six more weeks of bad weather. The tradition made its way to Germany, where the people decided that if a hedgehog were to see its shadow on Candlemas, they could expect a longer winter.
In the 1700s, when Germans began settling in Pennsylvania, they brought this European tradition with them. Since groundhogs were plentiful and resembled the hedgehogs they had known in Europe, the settlers decided that the groundhog would be the perfect weather forecaster to take up the tradition. In 1886, the first recorded prediction of "Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators and Weather Prophet Extraordinary'' was published in "The Punxsutawney Spirit" newspaper. This event also marked the first official Groundhog Day celebration.
Beginning in 1887, the celebration took place at Gobbler's Knob, which is located about two miles east of town in a wooded area. Today, a stage, complete with a sign that announces Phil's residency, remains in place on the site year-round. The movie "Groundhog Day," starring Bill Murray, was released in 1993, stimulating interest in the celebration and resulting in record crowds appearing at Gobbler's Knob. In 2002, 38,000 people came to Punxsutawney to watch Phil make his prediction. This is especially remarkable in light of the fact that the town's entire population numbers only 6,700 people.
Phil has his own set of handlers, who state that he weighs 15 pounds and subsists on a diet of dog food and ice cream. He spends most of the year living in a climate-controlled environment at the Punxsutawney Library. When it is time for him to make his prediction on the stage at Gobbler's Knob, his handlers place him in a heated burrow beneath an artificial tree stump. At 7:25 a.m., he is pulled from the burrow to make his prediction.
Since spring officially begins on March 21 each year, six weeks of winter always remain after Groundhog Day, regardless of which prediction is made by Punxsutawney Phil. However, Punxsutawney enjoys a fine tourist trade, so it really doesn't matter whether the "Weather Prophet Extraordinary" is correct with his forecast: the event itself provides the appeal.
- Photo Credit Wikimedia Commons
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