Six Weeks of Sun or Snow? The Groundhog Will Let Us Know!

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Sophia Venetis, Staff Writer

Every year on February 2, all of the United States and Canada awaits the end of Punxsutawney Phil’s hibernation, when the world’s most famous groundhog predicts the weather for the next six weeks. It is said that if it is sunny and the groundhog sees his shadow, winter weather is expected, but, if it is cloudy and Phil sees no shadow, the weather will be mild and spring will arrive early. Despite his prediction being only 35% – 40% accurate, Punxsutawney Phil’s fame has remained constant over the years – 134 years, to be exact. As silly as it may seem to praise a woodchuck for his generally inaccurate forecasts, this simple holiday brings people together in celebration across the nation, and even around the world. But why? The answer lies in the history and the evolution of the holiday we recognize today as Groundhog Day.

 

Groundhog Day falls halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, which is a period of time that has long been significant in many cultures. For instance, early February was when the Celts celebrated “Imbolc” (known today as St. Brigid’s Day) – a pagan holiday in which the idea of rebirth in nature was celebrated by honoring the fertility goddess Brigid with festivities. Many also planted crops and recognized the birth of farm animals on this day. Gaelic stories also suggest that if it were sunny on February 2, the Cailleach, a magical old hag, would gather plenty of firewood to keep warm for six more weeks of winter. People hoped that Imbolc would be a cloudy day so the Cailleach would not emerge from hiding.

 

Ironically, a Christian holiday known as Candlemas is also observed on February 2. Its roots date all the way back to 4th century Greece as a celebration of the return of light, as well as a holiday of purification. Traditionally, Christians would bring their candles to church and have them blessed during the service, as it was a practice that was believed to bring them good fortune through winter and until spring. Weather patterns were also a trope of Candlemas, with the idea that a sunny day foreshadowed winter and clouds suggested spring. By the time Candlemas made its way to Germany, hibernating animals such as the badger and hedgehog became a part of the holiday’s folklore. Many German immigrants carried this legend with them to the United States. As a result, the story gained popularity and continued evolving within the Pennsylvania Deutsch community and beyond.

 

With the absence of hedgehogs in the U.S. – particularly in Pennsylvania, where it is illegal to own one – the groundhog was picked as a substitute in the holiday festivities, thus resulting in the name “Groundhog Day.” February 2, 1887, marked the first time that Groundhog Day was recognized in the local newspaper and celebrated in Punxsutawney. Although it is only a cultural observance and not a national public holiday, people from all over, including the governor of Pennsylvania, take the day off to gather at Gobbler’s Knob as early as 3 am to wait for Punxsutawney Phil to come out of his burrow. Streets and nearby towns in Pennsylvania are typically very busy on this day as the ceremonies and festivities last all day long, including vendors, food, and music.

 

If you wanted to celebrate this peculiar holiday but were unable to visit (especially as it is advised to stay home during the pandemic), you could have even watched a live stream of the Punxsutawney annual Groundhog Day. Others acknowledge Groundhog Day by watching the 1993 romantic comedy, Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray as a weatherman who finds himself inexplicably reliving the same day – Groundhog Day – repeatedly. This year, on February 2, 2021, the furry forecaster predicted that we will be expecting six more weeks of winter. Whether you chose to worry about the weather, or not – pun intended – do you think he’ll be right?