Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Groundhog Day

Groundhog day is one of those holidays that is easily forgotten if you don't live in certain parts of the U.S. or Canada. You don't get any presents, there's no fireworks, and you don't get candy. All you do is watch a groundhog come out and wait to see if it spots its shadow or not. Not that exciting, right? Some areas take the holiday very serious though. In Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania it is the biggest celebration of the year, attracting over 40,000 people to view whether "Punxsutawney Phil" will see his shadow or not, and whether they doomed to six more months of winter or not. Who came up with this kind of silly quasi holiday though? Nobody else but those Germans! God bless 'em! Well, at least German immigrants came up with the groundhog part. Before the German immigrants started the tradition we know now starting in the 18th and 19th century, it was the pagans who started stalking animals and recording their reactions to the weather. Many believe that it originated from the pagan festival Imbolc, which took place at the turning of the Celtic calender, February 1st. The practice also has similarities with the medieval Catholic holiday Candlemas. In both cases there is an animal that sees or does not see it's shadow, which signals that either spring is around the corner, or we have six more weeks of winter. The animal has changed over the years, sometimes being either a badger or even a sacred bear. The practice is all part of weather lore.
The earliest mention of the groundhog being used for Groundhog Day is in the mid-19th century in Pennsylvania being
associated with Candlemas Day, though many historians believe the tradition had been held by German immigrants in the beginning days of the U.S. It has since become a holiday recognized by all Americans and Canadians. It is reported by groundhog day proponents that the groundhog is right about 75%-90% of the time, though official studies have found that it's right only about 39% of the time. While it is most popular in Pennsylvania, it garners much attention in other states and cities around the continent. The closest festival dedicated to the day is in nearby Howell, MI, where people wait and see if "Woody" will see his shadow or not. According to local news, this year the groundhog did not see it's shadow and went out into the world, only to see a bunch of people gaping at it in wild anticipation. Early spring! Woohoo!

The holiday has garnered more attention since the popular movie Groundhog Day, in which Bill Murray has to repeat the same day over and over till he becomes a better person. The movie coincidentally takes place in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Watch it if you haven't, it's a good one.

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