On February 2 every year, a groundhog (woodchuck) emerges from its burrow to foretell the weather for the next six weeks. If the day is sunny and the groundhog sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter. If the day is cloudy, spring will be early. During the Middle Ages it was believed that animals such as the bear and the badger interrupted their hibernation to appear on February 2. Groundhog Day may have roots in an early Christian holiday called Candlemas, the day that candles were blessed and distributed. It was believed that clear skies meant a long winter. In German folklore the hedgehog was the predictor of an early spring.
On February 2, 1887 the groundhog named Phil, first made his appearance in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Promoters of the festival claim that Phil has never been wrong, records show that Phil’s predictions are historically 40% correct.
The Farmer’s Almanac uses a mathematical and astronomical formula for long range weather predictions. Tidal action of the moon , sunspot activity, and positions of the planets are a few of the tools used to forecast weather. Fans of the Farmer’s Almanac say that forecast accuracy is 80-85%.
Groundhogs have 22 teeth, are vegetarian, weigh 12-15 pounds, losing half their body weight during hibernation, and hibernate alone in a burrow with 2 doors. Groundhogs are swimmers and can climb trees as well as burrowing. Groundhogs play an important role maintaining healthy soil in the woodlands and plains. Groundhogs are extremely intelligent, solitary, habitat engineers that maintain a complex social network through a series of whistles.
There is a Groundhog song written by Helen Slayton Hughes: “We’ll light the big green candle and eat some rhubarb pie, gimme a kiss, it’s Groundhog Day and Groundhogs do not lie”.
Many fans of Groundhog’s Day celebrate by watching the 1993 movie with Bill Murray, while eating “dirt pie”(chocolate pudding topped with ground chocolate cookies). The movie is based on an iconic work, The Gay Science by German Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche where a man lives the same day over and over again. Bill Murray plays a cynical weatherman who travels to Punxsutawney to report on the annual Groundhog Day festival. Bill Murray’s character, Phil, lives for the future with his career goals and dreams for success. By not living in the present , Phil gets caught in a time loop, reliving each day until he eventually finds the true value to his life.
Groundhog Day is really just a light hearted holiday that is an excuse for some fun and festivities during the dreary winter season.
Kate Emery General is a retired chef/restaurant owner that was born and raised in Casper, Wyoming. Kate loves her grandchildren, knitting and watercolor painting. Kate and her husband, Matt are longtime residents of Cambridge’s West End where they enjoy swimming and bicycling.