HOW THE GROUNDHOG BECAME A STAR

I hope everyone enjoyed the wonderful snow storm this week. I guess technically it was a blizzard because of the winds. Either way, boy is there a lot of snow!

What’s ironic is that it hit on Groundhog Day, the day when Punxsutawney Phil is suppose to emerge from his den and tell us how many weeks of winter are left. Being snowbound got me thinking (it was either that or shoveling).  What is a groundhog and how did he get to be the “expert” on predicting the end of winter?

Apparently this whole idea of using a groundhog to predict the end of winter can be traced back to the ancient Christian tradition of Candlemas Day. Clergy would bless and distribute the candles needed for winter and the number of candles represented how long and cold the winter would be. The tradition was adopted then tweaked by the German people. They decided to use a hedgehog as a means of predicting the end of winter. When the Germans immigrated to the US and settled in Pennsylvania, they brought this tradition with them. However they found more groundhogs (aka woodchucks) than hedgehogs and decided the groundhog would be a suitable substitute.

So how did Punxsutawney Phil get the exclusive on this Groundhog gig? In a nutshell, he had a good publicist. Back in 1887, the editor of a Punxsutawney newspaper, who also happened to belong to a group of groundhog hunters call the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, declared that Phil was “the only true weather-predicting groundhog” (according to History.com).  There have been and are other meteorological groundhogs in different communities – and some with pretty cool names, too – but Phil still seems to take center stage.

And why is Groundhog Day on February 2? Well there are a couple reasons. First, male groundhogs emerge briefly from their burrow in early February to look for mates. After presumably finding a mate, they go back underground and don’t re-emerge until March.  In addition, most of us would agree that the beginning of February is about the half-way point for winter. For 19th century farmers in New England, it was a critical piece of information. They had a saying, “Groundhog Day – half your hay.” That meant that if they used more than half their hay by February 2, they might not have enough to feed their animals before spring and fresh grass arrived.

Yesterday, Phil didn’t see his shadow and the prediction is an early spring.  While it’s a fun event, I’m not sure I’ll take his word – or lack of shadow – for it when planning my spring gardening.  But it sure is a nice thought.

There is green grass and flowers under all this snow. Think spring!

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