Groundhog Day- February 2, 2018
If the civic leaders of Punxsutawney, PA offer prayers of gratitude, they will utter a prayer of thanks for the actor Bill Murray and others behind the 1993 fantasy-comedy Groundhog Day. That’s the site of the largest Groundhog Day celebration.
The average influx of visitors had been about 2,000 until the town was featured in the Bill Murray movie. Crowds as large as 40,000 now gather each year. One can assume that this has generated its own section in the town budget.
Groundhog Day is celebrated each year in the United States, Canada, and Germany on February 2. The acknowledgement of the day derives from the Pennsylvania Dutch superstition that is a groundhog emerges from its burrow on this day, and sees its shadow due to clear weather, it will return to its den and winter will go on for six more weeks. If cloudiness means that it cannot see its shadow, spring will appear early.
Scholars point out connections to old lore that clear weather on Candlemas (i.e., the Feast of Jesus at the temple) forebodes a prolonged winter. People have gathered at Punxsutawney and other places in North America since February 2, 1887. Here in Canada, our most famous groundhog is Wiarton Willie (Wiarton, Ontario).
The Punxsutawney Elks Lodge originally had an interest in the groundhog as a game animal for food. Groundhog meat was served in the lodge’s banquet. A drink called “groundhog punch” was also served. The flavour has been described as a cross between pork and chicken. The hunt and feast did not attract enough outside interest, and the practice was discontinued. (Deo Gratias!)
Groundhog Day fits with the tradition of hibernating mammals (the groundhog, the bear, and so on) being observed as a way of predicting weather patterns.
There is a German saying, “Sonnt sich der Dachs in der Lichtmeßwoche, so geht er auf vier Wochen wieder zu Loche.” [If the badger sunbathes during Candlemas-week, for four more weeks he will be back in his hole.]
Our methods are much more scientific these days. But predictions based on a groundhog had a basis in observing an animal’s behavior, for instance watching what happens when stores of food became scarce as winter progressed. It’s also based on when groundhogs emerge from hibernation. Those whose planting and harvesting are tied to their observations are still plentiful.
I will be praying that the official groundhog for this part of North America is unable to see its shadow. I’ve had enough winter.