Did That Critter See His Shadow?

February 2, 2008

If you’re in the U.S., it’s not unlikely that a certain rodent crossed your path this morning. Like most celebrities, he’s put on a few pounds in his old age and is getting ever more difficult to hoist in the air when that all-important premonition proclamation is made by his inner circle. Yes, that’s right: it’s Punxsutawney Phil’s day to shine . . . just like the early-morning sun, which cast a long shadow behind him and means six more weeks of winter. Phooey.

Punxsy Phil The holiday’s roots go back to the European tradition of Candlemas, when candles were blessed and distributed and the day’s weather was used to foretell the coming of spring. Imported by German settlers, Groundhog Day has been officially celebrated in that small town in Pennsylvania since 1887, though real interest in attending the ceremony didn’t take off until the Bill Murray/Andee MacDowell film highlighting the holiday and the town was released in 1993 (need to jog your memory?).

Unless you like a media circus, you’re better off visiting Phil any other day of the year when you’ll have his full and undivided attention. The town has developed a small number of groundhog- and weather-related attractions which can be enjoyed year-round. Your pilgrimage must include a stop at Phil’s home, a terrarium called “Groundhog Zoo” at the library building on Punxsy’s town square. Before leaving town, pick up a Phil-shaped cookie cutter and bake a few groundhogs in his honor every February ever after. Punxsutawney is approximately 80 miles northeast of Pittsburgh and 150 miles southeast of Erie in west-central Pennsylvania.

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