Today is February 2 – Groundhog Day. It’s a pretty big deal here in my home state, especially in this part of the commonwealth – western Pennsylvania – and not just because it was the subject of a Bill Murray movie by the same name in 1993.
“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 small hamlet 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 rattles him enough to cause him to scurry back into his comfy home and stay there for six more weeks – hence predicting more winter weather to come.
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.
How did this unique tradition begin? According to history, German immigrants living 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 a 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 at Gobbler’s 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 darting into the brush, although it wasn’t the famous Phil. He hangs out in his own private burrow in town, a climate-controlled spot located in the Punxsutawney Memorial Library. You can watch Phil from inside the public library or from the outside where we said hello to him.
Because we visited Gobbler’s Knob on a quiet summer Sunday afternoon, we had to imagine thousands of people gathered there on a February morning just to witness Punxsutawney Phil emerge from his burrow during all the hoopla. After wandering around, I captured photos of “the spot” where Phil publicly declares his weather forecast during the celebration (shown below).
Groundhog Day at Gobbler’s Knob is quite an event, as ascertained by our oldest daughter who visited the site with friends during her college years because it was something to check off her bucket list. Of course, this year due to the pandemic, the celebration will undoubtedly be much smaller, all masked up and social distanced, and actually a live-feed virtual broadcast will take place.
After departing Gobbler’s Knob, we drove back into the quaint and friendly little town of Punxsutawney where we spied Phil in his not-so-private “burrow” and strolled the streets to locate large groundhog statues painted in various arrays and stationed in front of shops or public buildings. (The photo at the beginning of this post is one of those positioned outside the library.)
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 Instagram.
You can check those out and everything else you wanted to know about Punxsutawney Phil but were afraid to ask at the official website. You can even order Punxsutawney Phil souvenirs from the shop, Groundhog Stuff here.
Whether Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow or not, spring eventually will arrive since the official first day of spring noted on the calendar is six weeks from now. I guess we don’t need a prognosticating groundhog to tell us that, but it’s still a fun tradition.
“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