Ground Hog Day and Punxsutawney Phil

Edmond P. DeRousse January 30, 2019 at 9:55 pm

  Punxsutawney Phil  

Ground Day is a celebration of the change in season from winter to spring. It is observed on the second day of February.

What if we are told that Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow? No shadow means an early Spring. How did this all get started?

The beginning of February denotes the halfway point between the shortest day of the year (winter solstice) and when night and day are about the same length of time (spring equinox). Pagans celebrated that day on February 1 or 2 with a festival of lights called Imbolc. They believed that if the weather then was fair, the second half of winter would be stormy and cold.

According to Gaelic legend, the start of spring was determined by the goddess Cailleach, the ruler of winter. If she wanted a long winter, she would make the day bright so she would have more daylight to gather more firewood. On a dreary day she would stay in because spring was coming.

There was a Medieval Christian celebration called Candlemas. In that celebration clergy would bless and distribute candles needed for winter. Those candles represented how long and cold winter would be. Candlemas falls 40 days after Christmas and celebrated three things: the presentation of the child Jesus, Jesus’ first entry into the temple, the Virgin Mary’s purification.

The idea of using an animal as a weather prognosticator originated in Germany. Animal hibernation practices played a big part. The concept of Candlemas was expanded to include selecting an animal. They used the hedgehog. They believed that if the sun appeared and the hedgehog saw his shadow, there would be a second winter, or six more weeks of bad weather

When the Germans arrived in Pennsylvania, they continued the tradition. Instead of the hedgehogs, though, they used the ground hog. Hedgehogs do not live in North America. And groundhogs were plentiful

In 1723, the Delaware Indians settled Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania as a campsite halfway between the Allegheny and the Susquehanna Rivers.  The Delaware Indians considered ground hogs honorable ancestors.  According to the original creation beliefs of the Delaware Indians, their forebears began life as animals in “Mother Earth” and emerged centuries later to hunt and live as men.

In 1887 a Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania newspaper editor, Clymer Freas, declared “Phil” the only true weather-forecasting ground hog. The editor belonged to a group of groundhog hunters calling themselves the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club. The groundhog was given the name “Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators, and Weather Prophet Extraordinary”. Punxsutawney Phil’s debut performance produced no shadow, so an early spring was predicted.

Year after year, Freas continued to write about the special ground hog, embellishing its accomplishments. Other newspapers across the country picked up his stories. Soon everyone was looking to Punxsutawney Phil for predictions of when spr

Here are some facts you probably didn’t know about Groundhog Day and Punxsutawney Phil:   

 ** Punxsutawney Phil has seen his shadow 97 times, has not seen it 15 times, and nine years are unaccounted for.

** The National Climatic Data Center reportedly stated that Phil’s predictions have been correct 39% of the time. But it is not his fault. Sometimes the club’s president misinterpreted what Phil said. Afterall, Phil is correct 100% of the time.

** There’s a legend that during Prohibition, Phil threatened to impose 60 weeks of winter on the community if he wasn’t allowed a drink.

** In the years following the release of Groundhog Day, a 1993 film starring Bill Murray, crowds numbering as high as 30,000 have visited Gobbler’s Knob, a tiny hill in Punxsutawney where the ceremony takes place.

** Though groundhogs typically live only six to eight years, Groundhog Day lore suggests that Phil drinks a magic elixir every summer, which gives him seven more years of life.

** February 2, 1840 was the first mention of Groundhog Day in America. It was an entry in the diary of James L. Morris of Morgantown, Pennsylvania.

** Groundhogs go into hibernation in the early fall. The males emerge from their burrows in February not to predict the weather but to look for a mate and then they return to their burrows again. In March they come out of hibernation.

** Phil has a wife. She lives in the town library with her husband.

** Phil’s original name was ”Br’er Groundhog”. The name didn’t catch on. Instead he was named after King Phillip.

** Phil speak Groundhogese. He uses it to share his shadow-finding to the Inner Circle President, who then announces it to the world.

Punxsutawney Phil is not the only weather prognosticator.

 ** Staten Island Chuck is the official weather-forecasting woodchuck for New York City. Sometime their ceremonies don’t go as planned. In 2009, Chuck bit Mayor Michael Bloomberg and one year Chuck was dropped by Mayor Bill de Blasio.

**  In Washington, D.C. he’s called Potomac Phil.  In addition to weather predicting, if he sees his shadow it means six more months of political gridlock.

**  In Wiarton, Ontario he’s Wiarton Willie and in Nova Scotia he’s known as Shubencadie Sam

** General Beauregard Lee of LilburnGeorgia is known to have the most accurate prediction, 94%

** Buckeye Chuck was made Ohio’s official state groundhog in 1979. . He’s not very accurate, though. Since 2006 he’s only been correct twice.

** Sir Walter Wally makes his prediction at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, and he’s only been around since 1998. But Sir Walter Wally is his stage name. His real name is Toby. North Carolina has an increasing groundhog problem so Groundhog Day was used to educate people about this problem.

** Pierre C. Shadeaux (New Iberia, Louisiana) is technically a nutria, a large “river rat” with orange teeth and a tail. They’re commonly called “Cajun groundhogs” because groundhogs aren’t native to Louisiana.

** Thistle the Whistlepig is from Cleveland, Ohio.

Shubenacadie Sam lives in Shubenacadie Wildlife Park in Nova Scotia. He is the first groundhog in North America to make Groundhog Day prediction. His residence is an hour ahead of everyone else in North America.

** Fred la Marmotte makes his predictions from Quebec during the carnival in Val-d’Espoir in  Gaspé.

** And then there is Fufu the hedgehog from Portland, Oregon.

I have more about Groundhog Day on my video blog:


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