Daily Archives: February 3, 2014

The Groundhog Has Its Day…

In old old times… in a small village, used to live a farmer and his wife, who had two grown up daughters. The daughters were married and settled in far away villages. One day the farmer decided to go on a trip to visit the daughters.

The elder daughter and her husband, who were farmers like him, received him with all honours. And had to say this about their well-being: ‘If it doesn’t rain within the week, we will be ruined; our harvest will be destroyed!’

With a heavy heart, the farmer set out for the younger daughter’s house. The younger daughter and her husband, who were potters, were equally glad to welcome him. And had this to say: ‘If it rains within the week, we will be ruined; our pots set out to dry will be destroyed!’

When the farmer returned home, he said to his waiting wife: ‘Regardless of the weather, one of our daughters will surely be ruined!’

Weather has always been a determining factor in human life. Early cave dwellers had an anxiety ridden relationship with weather, perceiving it as unexplainable and way more powerful than themselves. The fear-laced respect towards changing weather has led to a wish to predict the weather, if not to control it.

All civilizations have sayings and proverbs related to weather, aimed at predicting. Examples: ‘Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky in morning, sailor’s warning’, ‘When the goose flies high fair weather. If the goose files low, foul weather’, ‘Seagull, seagull, sit on the sand, it’s never good weather when you’re on land’, etc.

Among the many means of predicting weather, observing the behaviour of animals has been an early one. And much to humanity’s credit we still follow the age old traditions! 🙂 As is evident from the celebrations associated with Groundhog Day!

Groundhog Day is celebrated on February 2nd, every year, the main location being Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. 2014 marks the 128th Groundhog Day celebrations there. The custom has its origins in the folk belief that on this day the groundhog, a marmot that typically lives in burrows, peeps out of its abode to check the weather. If it sees its shadow – if the day is sunny – it goes back in and the winter will last another 6 weeks; if no shadow is visible, it will venture out and we can expect an early spring.

So what if Punxsutawney Phil emerged from Gobbler’s Knob, exactly at 7.28 am on February 2nd 2014, and predicted another six weeks of winter this year? Isn’t the ceremonial consultation of Phil an occasion for some old fashioned pomp and splendour? And doesn’t it bring visitors to an otherwise sleepy town and help out local businesses? And don’t forget a fairly good movie with Bill Murray playing a TV weatherman covering the Groundhog Day. The fact that dear Phil has been more wrong then right in the past in predicting the length of winter is beside the point! 🙂

And don’t think that groundhog related festivities are over with the predictions… far from it. There is the Groundhog Picnic, Groundhog Club Banquet, Groundhog Ball, a Celebration Tent filled with fun and entertainment events, Phil Phest featuring a yard game tournament… whatever your preference, there is something for everyone! And of course, you can buy memorabilia like t-shirts and beads and whatnots to take home. And the list of corporate sponsors for the events is pretty long. Take a look at all the details at the Groundhog Day Home here.

The belief that groundhogs (and other animals) are capable of predicting the weather was carried over from Europe by the Germans who settled in the south eastern and central Pennsylvania in the 18th and 19th centuries. The earliest reference to Groundhog Day in the US is in 1841.

As any person who has achieved great success, Phil also has had to content with imitators and competitors. Several other groundhog personalities have emerged in recent times – no pun intended – to get in the business. Buckeye Chuck in Marion, Ohio, Birmingham Bill in Birmingham, Alabama, General Beauregard Lee in Lilburn, Georgia, Sir Walter Wally in Raleigh and Queen Charlotte in Charlotte, both in North Carolina, are some of the Johnny-come-latelys in the weather prediction business. Isn’t it so true that success breeds imitation?

And of course, Washington DC has its own version of Groundhog Day, with Potomac Phil, a stuffed groundhog playing the main part. No, no… no comments on stuffed beings in DC, please! 😉

By the way, the name Punxsutawney comes from the Indian name for the location ‘ponksaduteney’ which means ‘the town of the sandflies’.


03 Feb 2014