Why is a whole day devoted to a groundhog seeing (or not seeing) its shadow?

Many are familiar with the movie, but few know the history and benevolence that goes into the obscure yet nationally recognized tradition of Groundhog Day.

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By Cole Benz – For the DC Herald
cbenz@countrymedia.net

Coming up this Monday, Feb. 2, a little furry rodent will, according to legend, decide how much of the winter season we have left. Though judging by the record-setting warm temperatures this area has seen the past week, some probably don’t care at this point.
The official ‘weather predicting’ groundhog is named Punxsutawney Phil and he resides in Gobbler’s Knob, which is about 2 miles east of Punxsutawney, Pa.
Each year on Feb. 2, he peaks out and predicts how much winter we have left, depending on if his shadow is visible or not.
According to groundhog.org “If he sees it, he regards it as an omen of six more weeks of bad weather and returns to his hole. If the day is cloudy and, hence, shadowless, he takes it as a sign of spring and stays above ground.”
The ceremony, which is planned and conducted by a group called ‘The Inner Circle’, has become a large festivity for the people of Punxsutawney. Filled with music and food, the number of participants has grown and nearly 30,000 people turn out for the multi-day festival.
The Inner Circle, known officially as Groundhog Club’s Inner Circle, is a set of people that can be distinguished at the ceremony by their tuxedos and top hats. Listed on groundhog.org, the group contains 15 members and along with hosting the event, they collectively take care of Phil throughout the year.
Considered a dignitary, the men dress in tuxes and top hats out of respect for the furry guy.
This tradition can be traced back to the European holiday of Candlemas Day. It represented a time when clergy would hand out candles and bless them. If the skies were clear during Candlemas Day, it was seen as a sign that winter would be longer.
Germans began to include the hedgehog in this tradition, judging the length of winter by it casting a shadow or not.
As settlers came over to America, many Germans settled in the Pennsylvania area and unbeknownst to them didn’t have hedgehogs, but instead was populated with groundhogs, which would carry on the tradition.
When Punxsutawney Phil comes out of Gobbler’s Knob this year, it will mark the 129th time Phil searches for his shadow.
The Punxsutawney Spirit newspaper printed the first groundhog day observance in 1886. The Editor of the paper was a member of a group of groundhog hunters named The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club. He used his position with the newspaper to print a claim that Phil was the only ‘weather predicting groundhog.’ Phil’s reputation and the day’s event spread in popularity from there.
Punxsutawney Phil shot up in popularity again in the early 90s when in 1993 movie Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray, was released. Groundhog Day tells the story of weatherman Phil Connors (played by Murray), covering the groundhog event in Punxsutawney. Connors finds himself in a time loop. Each day he awakens is seemingly the same day as before, offering Connors a do-over.
Punxsutawney Phil’s popularity continued to grow, and it even landed him an appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 1995.
The past five years Phil has seen his shadow in 2014, 2012, and 2010. Phil did not see his shadow in 2013, and 2011. By this pattern Phil is due to miss it this year, predicting a shorter winter.
The weather predictions for that morning in Punxsutawney call for snow at a 75 percent chance of precipitation. With snow there’s clouds, maybe we are all in for a quick finish to this year’s wintery season.
We’ll have to see what Phil says!


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