GROUNDHOG DAY – WHAT MAKES IT SPECIAL

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GROUNDHOG DAY – WHAT MAKES IT SPECIAL

Why do we have Groundhog Day?

  Is the prediction truly accurate?

Groundhog Day is a day celebrated on February 2nd. According to folklore, if it is cloudy when a groundhog emerges from its burrow on this day, then spring will come early; if it is sunny, the groundhog will supposedly see its shadow and retreat back into its burrow, and the winter weather will persist for six more weeks.

Modern customs of the holiday involve celebrations where early morning festivals are held to watch the groundhog emerging from its burrow.

In southeastern Pennsylvania, Groundhog Lodges (Grundsow Lodges) celebrate the holiday with fersommlinge, social events in which food is served, speeches are made, and one or more plays or skits are performed for entertainment. The Pennsylvania German dialect is the only language spoken at the event, and those who speak English pay a penalty, usually in the form of a nickel, dime, or quarter per word spoken, with the money put into a bowl in the center of the table.

The largest Groundhog Day celebration is held in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania with Punxsutawney Phil. Groundhog Day, already a widely recognized and popular tradition, received widespread attention as a result of the 1993 film Groundhog Day.

The celebration, which began as a Pennsylvania German custom in southeastern and central Pennsylvania in the 18th and 19th centuries, has its origins in ancient European weather lore, wherein a badger or sacred bear is the prognosticator as opposed to a groundhog. It also bears similarities to the Pagan festival of Imbolc (the seasonal turning point of the Celtic Calendar, which is celebrated on February 1st and also involves weather prognostication) and to St. Swithum’s Day in July 15th.

Falling midway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, February 2 is a significant day in several ancient and modern traditions. The Celts, for instance, celebrated it as Imbolc, a pagan festival marking the beginning of spring. As Christianity spread through Europe, Imbolc evolved into Candlemas, a feast commemorating the presentation of Jesus at the holy temple in Jerusalem. In certain parts of Europe, Christians believed that a sunny Candlemas meant another 40 days of cold and snow. Germans developed their own take on the legend, pronouncing the day sunny only if badgers and other animals glimpsed their own shadows. When German immigrants settled Pennsylvania in the 18th and 19th centuries, they brought the custom with them, choosing the native groundhog as the annual forecaster.

In western countries in the Northern Hemisphere, the official first day of spring is almost seven weeks (46–48 days) after Groundhog Day, on March 20th or March 21st. The custom could have been a folk embodiment of the confusion created by the collision of two calendrical systems. Some ancient traditions marked the change of season at cross-quarter days such as Imbolc when daylight first makes significant progress against the night. Other traditions held that spring did not begin until the length of daylight overtook night at the Vernal Equinox. So an arbiter, the groundhog/hedgehog, was incorporated as a yearly custom to settle the two traditions. Sometimes spring begins at Imbolc, and sometimes winter lasts six more weeks until the equinox.

The largest Groundhog Day celebration is held in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, where crowds as large as 40,000 have gathered to celebrate the holiday since at least 1886. Other celebrations of note in Pennsylvania take place in Quarryville in Lancaster County, the Anthracite Region of Schuylkill County the Sinnamahoning Valley and Bucks County.

The day is observed with various ceremonies at other communities in North America, including in Wiarton, Ontario, at the Shubenacadie Wildlife Park in Nova Scotia, and at the University of Dallas in Irving (which has what is claimed to be the second largest Groundhog celebration in the world). 

For the last 30 years, residents of Vermillion, Ohio, have turned to a very different creature for their annual weather forecast: the wooly bear caterpillar. According to tradition, if the insects have more orange than black coloring, the upcoming winter will be mild. More than 100,000 people attend the town’s Wollybear Festival, held every fall since 1972.

 

Also known as woodchucks, groundhogs belong to the group of large ground squirrels known as marmots. They grow up to 25 inches long and can live for 10 years in captivity. (According to legend, Punxsutawney Phil is more than 125 years old thanks to the magical punch he imbibes every summer.) Groundhogs really do spend the winter hibernating in their burrows, significantly reducing their metabolic rate and body temperature; by February, they can lose as much as half their weight. When they’re out and about, the bristly rodents eat succulent plants, wild berries and insects—and they don’t mind helping themselves to garden vegetables or agricultural crops.2015

Punxsutawney Phil Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania
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6 more weeks of winter[21] Poor Richard York, Pennsylvania
According to Groundhog Day organizers, the rodents’ forecasts are accurate 75% to 90% of the time. However, a Canadian study for 13 cities in the past 30 to 40 years found that the weather patterns predicted on Groundhog Day were only 37% accurate over that time period. According to the StormFax Weather Almanac and records kept since 1887, Punxsutawney Phil’s weather predictions have been correct 39% of the time. The National Climatic Data Center has described the forecasts as “on average, inaccurate” and stated that “the groundhog has shown no talent for predicting the arrival of spring, especially in recent years.”A similar custom is celebrated among Orthodox Christmas in Serbia on February 15th (February 2nd according to local Julian Calendar) during the feast of celebration of Sretenje or The Meeting of the Lord. It is believed that on this day the bear will awake from winter dormancy, and if in this sleepy and confused state it sees (meets) its own shadow, it will get scared and go back to sleep for an additional 40 days, thus prolonging the winter. Thus, if it is sunny on Sretenje, it is the sign that the winter is not over yet. If it is cloudy, it is a good sign that the winter is about to end.

 

In Germany, June 27 is “Siebenschläfertag” (Seven Sleepers Day). If it rains that day, the rest of summer is supposedly going to be rainy. While it might seem to refer to the “Siebenschläfer” squirrel (Glis glis), also known as the “edible dormouse”, it actually commemorates the Seven Sleepers (the actual commemoration day is July 25).

In the United Kingdom, July 15 is known as St. Swithum’s day. It was traditionally believed if it rained on that day; it would rain for the next 40 days and nights.

In Alaska, February 2 is observed as Marmot Day rather than Groundhog Day because few groundhogs exist in the state.

 

6 more weeks of winter Dundas Donna Toronto, Ontario
6 more weeks of winter[21] Dover Doug Dover, Pennsylvania

Kathy Kiefer

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