Thursday, February 2, 2017

History of...Groundhog Day!

No, this won't be about the awesome Bill Murray movie but this image is!
It's that time of year again, the time where we eagerly anticipate the atmospheric portents from our marmot shaman Punxsutawney Phil. Determined solely on whether said ground dwelling rodent sees its shadow or not, we in the 21st century decide if we will have 6 more weeks of winter.

But why? Where does this tradition come from? And why can't we just ask Jim Cantore instead?

This history of Groundhog Day owes its existence to Candlemas Day, an old Christian tradition where clergy members would bless and distribute candles that parishioners and townsfolk needed for winter. There's also a tradition about pancakes but that's getting off into the weeds and I'll let you Google that one for yourself. Needless to say, this occasion held an importance in marking just how long the bloody cold of medieval winters could take. Several old poems exist on the subject, but this old English song covers the gist:
                                             If Candlemas be fair and bright,
                                             Come, Winter, have another flight;
                                             If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
                                             Go Winter, and come not again.
 German settlers expanded on this tradition in America by selecting a groundhog as an alternate means of predicting the weather. It is believed that this is a carryover from when Romans brought their version of this weather prediction to the Germans, who added that if a hedgehog came out and saw its shadow that THAT would be the meter stick to judge if winter would stick around or not. As there were far more groundhogs than hedgehogs in the Pennsylvanian wilds the mascot choice seems understandable.

So it went for a while, until 1887 when a newspaper editor from Punxsutawney declared Phil the groundhog as America’s only true weather-forecasting groundhog. The fact that said editor was a member a group of groundhog hunters called the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club may have played a part. The lore pertaining to Phil is rather interesting, as
"there is only one Phil, and all the other groundhogs are impostors. It is claimed that this one groundhog has lived to make weather prognostications since 1886, sustained by drinks of "groundhog punch" administered at the annual Groundhog Picnic in the summer."
After the prediction is made, Phil speaks to the Club president in 'groundhogese', which only the Club can interpret (one assumes this language is passed from president to president in the most strict and solemn of masonic lodge ceremonies) and that president delivers the news to the world.

So there you have it, the history of Groundhog Day. Now, there is an amazing movie called Groundhog Day that I'm sure many of you have seen. Bill Murray goes to cover the annual event but ends up spending the same day over and over and over until he learns to be less of a jerk. If you haven't seen it, today will probably be the best day to find it on tv.

Here is the clip that references the quote above:

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