By JEANNIE WILEY WOLF
As winter continues its icy grip on much of the nation, one of the most anticipated weather predictions of the year comes Sunday morning.
Will winter stick around six more weeks or is spring around the corner? It’s all up to a groundhog.
According to legend, if it’s sunny on Feb. 2 and a groundhog sees its shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter. But if it’s cloudy and the rodent doesn’t see its shadow, spring is on the way.
The tradition dates back centuries to Europe when people watched hibernating animals like badgers, bears and hedgehogs for a sign of winter’s end, reports the stormfax.com website. If the otter or badger comes out and sees his shadow, planting will have to wait because of more snow and cold. But if the badger comes out and doesn’t see his shadow, farmers can soon start planting their crops, the website said.
When German settlers arrived in America, they brought along the tradition of Candlemas Day, a religious celebration known as the Feast of Purification of the Virgin Mary, when Jesus’ parents presented him in the temple.
By Jewish law, the purification took place 40 days after Christ was born, which came on Feb. 14. During this time Jesus’ birthday was celebrated on Jan. 6, but with the calendar change of Christmas to Dec. 25, Candlemas fell on Feb. 2, according to infoplease.com.
The day is considered the midpoint between winter and spring.
A Candlemas poems goes:
“If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.”
The first German settlers to celebrate the weather prediction tradition in the U.S. were from Punxsutawney, Pa. Badgers weren’t prominent in Pennsylvania, so they began watching the groundhog instead, the National Geographic website (nationalgeographic.com) reports.
The earliest American reference to Groundhog Day can be found at the Pennsylvania Dutch Folklore Center at Franklin and Marshall College, according to stormfax.com. It is dated Feb. 4, 1841 from the diary of Morgantown, Berks County, Pa storekeeper James Morris’ diary:
“Last Tuesday, the 2nd, was Candlemas day, the day on which, according to the Germans, the Groundhog peeps out of his winter quarters and if he sees his shadow he pops back for another six weeks nap, but if the day be cloudy he remains out, as the weather is to be moderate.”
The outing became a tradition, and local newspaper editor Clymer Freas nicknamed the seekers “the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club.” Pennsylvania’s celebration of Groundhog Day began Feb. 2, 1886 with Freas’ proclamation in The Punxsutawney Spirit newspaper:
“Today is groundhog day and up to the time of going to press the beast has not seen its shadow.”
The groundhog was given the name “Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators, and Weather Prophet Extraordinary,” and his hometown became known as the “Weather Capital of the World.”
The event has been held annually since then and attracts thousands of tourists.
Punxsutawney Phil, who lives in a climate-controlled habitat adjoining the Punxsutawney Library, is taken to an area east of town known as Gobbler’s Knob and placed in a heated burrow underneath a simulated tree stump. At 7:25 a.m., he is pulled out of the stump to make his prediction.
Phil’s proponents maintain that his predictions are 100 percent accurate. However, the U.S. National Climatic Data Center has estimated that the groundhog is correct only about 40 percent of the time.
Although Punxsutawney Phil gets the most attention, other American cities have their own groundhog. Ohioans relay on the predictions of Buckeye Chuck who lives in Marion. New York City’s official groundhog is Pothole Pete, while Groundhog Jimmy does the forecasting in Wisconsin. And in Atlanta, Ga., it’s Gen. Beauregard Lee, a groundhog who lives at Weathering Heights Plantation, who makes the call.
Wolf: 419-427-8419 Send an E-mail to Jeannie Wolf
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