This Sunday, February 2, is Groundhog Day, which is an unofficial weather holiday around these parts. I always look forward to the annual prediction by the Keystone State's most famous rodent. This Winter has been brutally cold and snowy, so I'm looking forward to an early Spring. We'll know the answer early Sunday morning when Punxsutawney Phil makes his prediction before 7:30 in front of a huge gathering of onlookers and fans.
So, how did Groundhog Day originate, anyway? The earliest known reference to Groundhog Day can be found at the Pennsylvania Dutch Folklore Center at Franklin and Marshall College. According to storekeeper James Morris' diary dated February 4, 1841, "Last Tuesday, the second, was Candlemas Day, the day on which, according to the Germans, the groundhog peeps out of his Winter quarters. If he sees his shadow, he pops back for another six-week nap. But if it remain cloudy, he remains out as the weather is to be moderate."
Do you remember what happened last year? Authorities in frigid Ohio issued an "indictment" of the furry rodent, who predicted an early Spring when he didn't see his shadow after emerging from his western Pennsylvania lair. "Punxsutawney Phil did purposely, and with prior calculation and design, cause the people to believe that spring would come early," Mike Gmoser, the prosecutor in southwestern Ohio's Butler County, wrote in an official-looking indictment.
Gmoser wrote that Punxsutawney Phil was charged with misrepresentation of Spring, which constitutes a felony "against the peace and dignity of the state of Ohio." The penalty Phil faced? Gmoser said — tongue firmly in cheek — was death. You may recall that I was featured in a segment on News 12 Connecticut on Groundhog Day 2013.
According to the Old English saying, "If Candlemas be fair and bright, Winter has another flight. If Candlemas brings clouds and rain, Winter will not come again." According to the Scottish, "If Candlemas Day is bright and clear, there will be two Winters in the year." Finally, the Germans believe, "For as the Sun shines on Candlemas Day, so far will the snow swirl until May. For as the snow blows on Candlemas Day, so far will the Sun shine before May."
Over the years, there have been several interesting anecdotes to Groundhog Day. For example, during Prohibition, Phil threatened to impose 60 weeks of Winter on the community if he wasn't allowed a drink. Phil traveled to Washington, DC, in 1986 to meet with President Reagan, and, one year later, he met Pennsylvania Governor Dick Thornberg. In 1993, Columbia Pictures released the movie Groundhog Day, starring comedian Bill Murray, and Phil appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 1995.
Following the release of the movie, annual crowds in excess of 30,000 have visited Gobbler's Knob. The spectacle has turned into a media event and has become quite commercial, too, with vendors hawking "Phil" tee-shirts, sweatshirts, a plastic Phil bank, Phil ornaments, and a classic Punxsutawney Phil cookbook. I wouldn't mind wearing one of those sweatshirts, in fact!
It is said that Punxsutawney Phil gets his longevity from drinking the "elixir of life," a secret recipe. Phil takes one sip every summer at the Groundhog Picnic and it magically gives him seven more years of life. So the story goes, Punxsutawney Phil was named after King Phillip. Prior to being called Phil, he was called Br'er Groundhog. I'm one of Phil's biggest fans!
Happy Groundhog Day.