Did That Critter See His Shadow?

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.


3 Responses to Did That Critter See His Shadow?

  1. Jan says:

    According to Wikipedia, “the earliest American reference to Groundhog Day can be found at the Pennsylvania Dutch Folklore Center at Franklin and Marshall College:

    4 February 1841 — from Morgantown, Berks County (Pennsylvania) storekeeper James Morris’ diary …”Last Tuesday, the 2nd, was Candlemas day, the day on which, according to the Germans, the Groundhog peeps out of his winter quarters and if he sees his shadow he pops back for another six weeks nap, but if the day be cloudy he remains out, as the weather is to be moderate.”

    Since there are no groundhogs in Germany, I don’t know how they came up with that idea. Maybe they were bored?

  2. poetloverrebelspy says:

    The NY Times article today said that it was any hibernating animal; another thing I read said that there weren’t many hedgehogs in PA, but there were a lot of groundhogs, so the Germans just “translated” the tradition.

  3. Jan says:

    Hedgehogs would be an option, though I doubt they come out in February. I think it could have been badgers or squirrels, who do not really hibernate, but come out now and then during winter.

    It’s also strange that we don’t have a similar tradition anymore. Maybe all the weirdos moved to America… 😛

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