How did that groundhog get the job?

The holiday season is behind us now and most people are turning their thoughts toward spring. A popular means of gauging just how long it will be until warm weather returns is whether or not the groundhog sees its shadow on February 2, commonly known as Groundhog Day.

Each February 2, in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, the Inner Circle of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club pulls its mascot, Punxsutawney Phil, out of his burrow on Gobbler’s Knob and holds him up for the crowd to see. As custom goes, if Phil sees his shadow, then we can expect six more weeks of winter. If he doesn’t, then spring is on the way. Phil and his predecessors (although the Inner Circle says it’s the same Phil every year!) have been making this prediction for the club since 1887.

But did you know that the tradition actually has European roots? According to a history of American Groundhog Day tradition written by Bill Anderson, similar beliefs were associated with Candlemas Day, which for centuries was when early Christian clergy would bless candles and distribute them to the people. The weather on Candlemas Day was considered a harbinger of temperatures to come, as sung in this old English tune: “If Candlemas be fair and bright, Come, Winter, have another flight; If Candlemas brings clouds and rain, Go Winter, and not come again.”

When the Romans swept across Britain and into northern Europe, they brought the tradition to the Germans, who expanded on it and said that if the sun appeared on Candlemas Day then the hedgehog would cast a shadow, predicting six more weeks of bad weather. The Germans who migrated to Pennsylvania found that the groundhog was plentiful, and as it resembled the European hedgehog, it was chosen as a worthy stand-in prognosticator.

Regardless of what Punxsutawney Phil sees or doesn’t see this Groundhog Day, I hope you are enjoying the new year and that your spring begins just when it should.

As it turns out good old Phil predicts an early spring.  Given the lackluster winter in the Northeast this year, I believe this cuddly rodent.