Most people have pretty much the same list of favorite holidays – Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, 4th of July, etc. I know of very few people who put Groundhog Day anywhere on their list. Well, Groundhog Day is my second favorite holiday after Christmas. I am absolutely serious about this. I grew up a mere 60 miles from Punxsutawney, PA, home of Punxsutawney Phil, the one true Seer of Seers, Prognosticator of Prognosticators and Weather Predictor Extroidinaire. Many towns and burroughs claim to have weather telling critters but they are all frauds. It’s blasphemy…BLASPHEMY! Anyhow, some might say that my affinity for Phil is related to my hometown favoritism or my pride as a former Pennsylvanian. I tell you the truth when I say that it means so much more to me than something as trivial as geography.
To get to the heart of it, let me give you a little background on groundhog day. First, the modern Groundhog Day tradition is centered around a groundhog named Punxsutawney Phil. For the past 123 years (his longevity made possible by his yearly consumption of the elixir of life), on February 2, Phil emerges from his temporary home on Gobbler’s Knob, located in Punxsutawney, PA, to predict the coming of spring. According to the tradition, if Phil sees his shadow and returns to his hole, the United States will have six more weeks of winter. If Phil does not see his shadow, spring will arrive early.
The tradition really precedes Phil, however. The holiday, 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. The holiday also bears some similarities to the medieval Catholic holiday of Candlemas, which takes place on or around the same date. This is ancient stuff and not to be taken lightly!
So, why is Groundhog Day so important to me? Around this time of year, I absolutely begin to crave summer. I get a mild case of the blues each winter as the days get shorter and the nights get colder (along with my wife’s feet!) I always view Groudhog Day as the turning point. Regardless of what Phil predicts, my hope for spring renews on Groundhog Day. Spring is near and I have survived another winter. I begin to come out of my hibernation and try to figure out how to shed this hibernation weight. I start to wonder how my bees are faring through the winter and I anticipate their buildup and the budding of the maples. I run through garden configurations and summer projects and I can almost smell the daffodils as they peek through the fading snow. Spring hope starts for me on Groundhog Day. I am counting on you Phil!
Late breaking news: Phil has predicted 6 more weeks of winter. Rats!