The Complete History of Groundhog Day

January 29, 2016

More Than You Ever Wanted to Know

Gina Kelly

February 2. Groundhog Day. Why? Why, you ask? Well, the astute Research Department of the Brownfield News has had the boys in the back working on this important piece of information for months. They finally emerged this week, and coincidentally, saw their shadow upon emerging, predicting six more weeks of research to come.

Actually, In 1723, the Delaware Indians had settled in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania (sure makes Brownfield look easy to spell and pronounce, doesn’t it?) halfway between the Allegheny and the Susquehanna Rivers. (Sure makes Red River look easy to spell, doesn’t it?)

Here is where things really take a turn. The Delawares considered groundhogs to be honorable ancestors. If you compare groundhogs to prairie dogs, I consider them to be rats with a dadgum good press agent!

And on that ancestrial note, do you really want to claim a groundhog as an ancestor? I don’t even claim monkeys and they at least have that opposable thumb thing going for them!

The name Punxsutawney, and I wish that was the last time I have to type that word, means “The Town of the Sandflies.” Well, no wonder they are claiming groundhogs as a part of their ancestors! They are naming a town after sandflies. This is not pointing to a people with much going on for them.

Back to the Groundhog Day history. When the Germans settled in Pennsylvania in the 1700s, they had a tradition known as “Candlemas Day.” It came at the mid-point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. Superstition held that if the weather was fair on this day, the second half of Winter would be stormy and cold.

Over time, the day for Candlemas Day became set as February 2. The earliest reference to this as Groundhog Day was in 1841.

The Germans felt no ancestrial callings with the groundhog and preferred to use the badger instead.

By 1886, Groundhog Day had become official with a proclamation in The Punxsutawney Spirit stating, “Today is groundhog day and up to the time of going to press the beast has not seen its shadow.” Even then, press time was never understood by outsiders!

The “official” groundhog was given the name (And you will never be able to find this on any souvenir item in those roadside tourist stops. Don’t even try.) “Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators, and Weather Prophet Extraordinary.”

Phil, as his close friends call him weighs 15 pounds and thrives on dog food and ice cream in his climate controlled home at the Punxsutawney Library.

His winter home in Gobbler’s Knob is a heated burrow underneath a tree stump. He is ceremoniously pulled out at 7:25 a.m. to make his prediction. What a revolting development! They place him in the warm burrow and then just when the early morning is the coldest, they yank him from his confines simply to see if he sees his shadow, which they could each do without him, just by looking behind themselves!

Nevertheless, this harbinger of coming weather honors his civic duty. Honestly, he only has to work one day a year. Plus he gets fed ice cream and lives in fancy digs. The least he can do is just appear willingly.

He does have rivals in the weather predicting world. Georgia’s Gen. Beauregard Lee. Ohio’s Buckeye Chuck. Staten Island Chuck. Wharton Willie. And the lesser known, but equally celebrated Wooly Bear Caterpillar of Vermillion, Ohio. Of course, don’t forget our area’s very own “Prairie Dog Pete.”

Meanwhile, back in Punxsutawney the Inner Circle has gathered. Men in full dress coats and top hats gather and conduct the official proceedings in a language called “Groundhogese.” I am serious. That is what the boys in the back have discovered!

Phil has now stepped into the world of technology. If you text the word “Groundhog” to 247365 on Groundhog Day you will receive his prediction texted to your phone.

Phil’s staff claims that Phil is 100% correct with his predictions. Amazing. Amazing until you compare it to the actual National Weather Service data. Phil, for all his pomp and circumstance, shows to be only 39% correct in his predictions. You could flip a coin and get better results!

Phil, nevertheless remains the star of the show. He has appeared on Oprah and met Presidents. He has also been on the radio numerous times. Having spent some time on air myself, I can say with some certainty, that points to a lot of dead air time.

In 2010, the animal rights group PETA demanded the use of a robotic groundhog in place of Phil. With fear of his job being outsourced, Phil vowed to do a better job of predicting from then on.

Other happenings of note in Phil’s illustrious career are an early morning encounter with a skunk in 1937. Probably a photo bomb gone sadly awry. In 1938, he saw his darkest shadow in history. Interesting. I would like to see the devices that determined that to be true.

In 1960, Phil predicted extremely bad weather on his appearance on the Today Show. In 2009, he was cheered at Super Bowl XLIII in which the Steelers went on to victory.

A glorious history of absolute failure! Proof once again that we will celebrate just about anything. Can you pass me the Groundhog Granola and “phil” my punch glass please? (See what I did there?)

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Category: Updates