Grand day for the groundhog

blogIMG_6162It’s February 2.  Groundhog Day.  A pretty big deal here in my home state, especially in this part of the commonwealth, western Pennsylvania.

“It’s a freakin’ holiday entirely based on the power of a psychic rodent. If that isn’t the epitome of awesome, I don’t know what is.”  ~Flying LlamaFish

What may seem bizarre and absurd to others is normal in the little town of Punxsutawney, where the weather predicting groundhog Phil lives and prognosticates.

When our famous rodent emerges from his hibernating hidey hole (or burrow) to check on the state of the weather, a bright sunny day will cause him to see his shadow on the ground.  Supposedly this scares him enough to run back into his comfy home and stay there for six more weeks – hence, we will have more winter weather. 

But if the day proves cloudy, there won’t be a shadow to frighten Phil back into hibernation, so the groundhog stays above ground indicating spring weather is on its way.

I grew up with this folklore legend and can remember as a child cheering for his spring prediction and groaning over the thought of six more weeks of winter with my classmates in elementary school.  

“If ground-hog day was bright and fair,
The beast came forth, but not to stay;
His shadow turned him to his lair,
Where six weeks more, he dormant lay
Secure in subterranean hold—
So wondrous weatherwise was he—
Against six weeks of ice and cold,
Which, very certain, there would be…” ~H.L. Fisher, “Popular Superstitions,” Olden Times: Pennsylvania Rural Life, Some Fifty Years Ago, and Other Poems, 1888

How did this crazy tradition begin? According to history, German immigrants who lived in the Punxsutawney area observed Groundhog Day as early as 1886.

February 2 became Groundhog Day because they based it on a European tradition of predicting the length of winter by noting weather conditions on Candlemas, which was an ancient Christian festival held on that day.

“If Candlemas Day be fair and bright,
Winter will have another fight;
But if Candlemas Day be clouds and rain,
Winter is gone, and will not come again.” ~old rhyme

Furthermore, if Candlemas Day proved sunny, the legend stated an animal, such as the hedgehog, would cast a shadow and that indicated more winter weather to come. The immigrants found no hedgehogs in Punxsutawney but there were plenty of groundhogs.

So voilà! The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club was established in 1899 and to this day, the club’s inner circle (the guys who wear formal wear and top hats on Groundhog Day) are the officials responsible for Phil and the Groundhog Day celebration.

blogIMG_6153Even though I’ve been in the area of Phil’s hometown in the past, I had never actually visited Gobbler’s Knob – the site of the official Groundhog Day proclamation. Our oldest daughter braved cold weather elements one year with a bunch of her college friends to join the throng of visitors there on Groundhog Day just to check it off her bucket list and they had so much fun.

One day last summer, Papa and I took a Sunday afternoon drive meandering along country roads which eventually led us to Punxsutawney and “the Knob.”

Gobbler’s Knob.  Isn’t that a hoot of a name? Supposedly, the name originated from gatherings of the Groundhog Club, who would actually hunt groundhogs and “gobble” up what they bagged or some say it may have come from the abundance of turkey gobblers in the area.

During our visit there, we didn’t see any turkeys, but we did spy a groundhog running into the brush, although it wasn’t the famous Phil.  He hangs out in his own private burrow in town.

We had to imagine thousands of people gathered at Gobbler’s Knob on a February morning just to see Punxsutawney Phil emerge from his burrow during all the hoopla because it was a quiet Sunday afternoon in August when we visited and we were the only folks there.

We wandered around a bit and I captured some photos of “the spot” where Phil publicly declares his weather forecast. Afterwards, we drove back into the quaint and friendly little town and strolled through the streets to locate all of the large groundhog statues painted in various arrays and stationed in front of shops or public buildings. Tomorrow on Wordless Wednesday, I will post a slide show of some of the statues I photographed there.

blogIMG_6165We visited famous Phil who was taking a Sunday afternoon nap in his official digs (pardon the pun), his “burrow” in Punxy which is attached to the town library. An outside viewing area allows you to see Phil but we realized he wasn’t interested in us one bit since he just continued taking his siesta while I attempted to get his picture behind the glass wall that separated him from us.

According to Punxsutawney’s Groundhog Day powers that be, ol’ Phil really IS old. They say he is the original groundhog, the only one after all of these 100 plus years, because he drinks a magic elixir every year that keeps him going for seven more years.  Uh-huh.

But just because Punxsutawney Phil is ancient doesn’t mean he’s behind the times.  He’s got his own Facebook page, Twitter, Pinterest, and glory be…his very own blog, From the Burrow.

You can check those out and everything else you wanted to know about Punxsutawney Phil but were afraid to ask at the official web site.

Today Punxsutawney Phil didn’t see his shadow so he predicted we will have an early spring. One way or another, spring will come and it will be here before we know it. But thanks, Phil, for giving us a forecast to cheer for! 

“The trouble with weather forecasting is that it’s right too often for us to ignore it and wrong too often for us to rely on it.” ~Patrick Young



8 responses

  1. Thanks for the wonderful history lesson. I’ll have to memorize that poem – I can never remember whether or not the groundhog seeing his shadow means an early spring or more winter! Wiarton Willie, Phil’s Ontario (Canada) counterpart, apparently saw his shadow this morning, so we’ve got another six weeks of winter ahead of us (although with the way our winter has been going – above average temperatures and almost no snow – I say ‘bring it on’. Happy Groundhog Day.


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