In many parts of northern USA and Canada, any cause for celebration in cold, gray, stormy February is a blessing. Otherwise, why would all the fuss exist over a ground hog’s weather predictions?
According to folk lore, if it is cloudy when the groundhog emerges from his cozy den on February 2nd, then spring will come early. If, however, it is sunny when he pokes his nose into the wintry weather, the legend goes that he sees his shadow and will retreat back into his burrow and not emerge again for another six weeks. Whether you watch the movement of Punxsutawney Phil in Pennsylvania or his nearly-as-famous Canadian counterpart, Wiarton Willie, those of us who have survived winter weather since early November anxiously await the good news that winter is on its way out and spring is just around the corner.
Since 1993, Ground Day has gained an international audience as a result of the film of the same name. Ground Hog Day, set in Punxsutawney, literally put the town and Phil on the world map!
Until 1993, the entire world was largely unaware of Punxsutawney and Phil. But, Pennsylvanians have been watching one of their many Phils (the expired Phil was immediately replaced by a Phil-in-waiting!) since the late 18th century.
But Ground Hog Day actually had its origins in Europe where a badger or sacred bear is the weather prognosticator. Ground Hog Day is believed to have begun as the pagan festival marking the turning point of the Celtic calendar. February 2nd falls halfway between the winter solstice and spring equinox. Pagan folk lore said that fair weather would bring cold and snowy conditions for the next six weeks.
Canadians are so into any festival to beat the winter blahs! Thousands converge on the tiny town of Wiarton for a week-long celebration each year. The fun culminates in the sunrise observation of Wiarton Willie’s appearance on Ground Hog Day. Wiarton has even erected a huge statue of their beloved rodent. His cousin, Phil, has been making weather predictions since as early as 1841 as proven by diary entries of Pennsylvania, storekeeper James Morris.
How accurate are these rodent meteorologists? Starting in 1887, a succession of Punxsutawney Phils has made 99 predictions of a longer winter and 16 pronouncements of an early spring. When compared with what actually did happen to the weather, the various Phils have been accurate only 39 percent of the time. Statisticians note that with a two-choice task such as this, as with the flip of a coin, the rodent weather predictors had a 50 percent chance of being correct!
Accurate or not, Ground Hog Day is a reason for week-long festivities in Wiarton and Punxsutawney and who knows where else!
How can you get in on the celebrations for Ground Hog Day?
Here are some suggestions:
Visit the site of ground hog festivities. The 127th celebration will occur at Gobbler’s Knob with the present Phil in residence. Join Phil’s club and check out the events. http://www.groundhog.org/things-to-do/events/
Fix yourself a tempting snack or a warm drink and settle in to watch the Ground Hog Day movie (over and over again).
Check out what the ground hog weather predictor nearest you says about winter! Besides Phil and Willie, other not-so-world-famous ground hogs include: Smith Lake Jake, of Birmingham, Alabama; Chuck, of Staten Island, New York; General Beauregard Lee in Georgia; and Shubenacadie Sam, Nova Scotia, Canada.
Have we missed a ground hog weather rodent near you?
Hold your own Groundhog Day party. You don’t even need a groundhog! An animal or human can take the starring role. Simply have your critter or person emerge from a hiding place, glance at the ground and scurry back. If there’s enough sunlight to cast a shadow, you’ll have six more weeks of winter; if the day is overcast, spring is heading your way fast.
We’d love to hear how you celebrated Ground Hog Day!