Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania#

by Elisabeth Ertl

Punxsutawney Phil
Punxsutawney Phil, 2013
Photo: Anthony Quintano under CC taken from Wikipedia

Every year, since 1887, on February 2nd at sunrise the groundhog Punxsutawney Phil is dragged from his burrow on Gobbler's Knob Gobblers Knob, Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, USA to make a forecast of the weather for the rest of the winter. The first Groundhog Day held in Punxsutawney was probably in the 1800's. Advertisement and fans claim, that only Punxsutawney Phil is the true weather forecasting groundhog (with a hit ratio of 100%) compared to all the other impostors.
Officially there has only been one groundhog (Marmota monax) so far, surviving on a special drink, called the "elixir of life", made up of a secret recipe of which he takes one sip every summer at the Groundhog Picnic to magically extend his life for seven more years. During the year Punxsutawney Phil lives in his burrow, located at the Punxsutawney Memorial Library, where he can be seen in one of the viewing windows from the outside.

The Origins of the festival of Groundhog Day can be traced back to Germans, the earliest settlers in Pennsylvania, which brought with them the legend of Candlemas Day (February 2nd) and the saying: "For as the sun shines on Candlemas Day, so far will the snow swirl in May....". On Candlemas, an early Christian holiday, candles were distributed and blessed. Eventually it became known that if the skies are sunny on this day, the winter will last longer. Roman legions spread this belief to the Germans who deduced that a hedgehog would cast a shadow if the sun was shinning and six more weeks of winter would follow, or a "Second Winter". In 1886 the news of the first observance of the Groundhog Day was printed in the newspaper "The Punxsutawney Spirit". "The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club" was founded in 1887 by a group of groundhog hunters who proclaimed on Candlemas Punxsutawney Phil as the one and only weather prognosticating groundhog. Punxsutawney Phil was named after King Phillip, before that he was known as Br'er Groundhog.

Gobblers Knob
Gobblers Knob
Photo: Doug Kerr under CC taken from Wikipedia

Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney
Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, 2005
Photo: Guety under CC taken from Wikipedia

On February 2nd at sunrise a crowd of well dressed gentlemen gathers on a stage at Gobbler's Knob to extricate a sleepy, furry marmot from his burrow. These gentlemen in the top hats are the Inner Circle of the Groundhog Club of Punxsutawney, a group of local dignitaries, charged with the well-being of Punxsutawney Phil, as well as the planning of the events of this special day and for carrying on the tradition.
According to legend the weather for the rest of the winter depends on Phil seeing his shadow. If it is sunny and he sees it, winter weather will last for six more weeks, if Phil can not spot his shadow, due to clouds, an early spring will arrive. Phil tells the president of the Groundhog Club whether or not he sees his shadow and the president then translates the forecast from "Groundhogese", a language only understood by the current president of the Groundhog Club, for the rest of the world. Following this startling pronouncement the festivities can begin, with much eating, drinking and generally having fun.

Punxsutawney Phil's fame has grown over the years until nowadays tens of thousands visitors from all over the world flood the festival to wait spellbound for the moment when a sleepy groundhog is dragged from its burrow. Said rodent has worn a yellow ribbon in honour of the American hostages in Iran, visited President Reagan in 1986 in Washington DC, the Pennsylvanian Governor in 1987 and even Oprah Winfrey during one of her shows in 1995. In 2001 the live broadcast of Punxsutawney Phil's prediction could be viewed at Times Square in New York. Probably most people learned of the festival due to the movie "Groundhog Day", starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell in 1993.

Groundhog Day is not only celebrated in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, although it has the oldest tradition, but also in other places in the USA and Canada, mainly in the distribution area of the woodchuck. There are nearly two dozen visionary marmots, for example Balzac Billy (Balzac, Alberta/Canada), General Beauregard Lee (Stone Mountain, Georgia), Jimmy the Groundhog (Sun Prairie, Wisconsin), Shubenacadie Sam (Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia/Canada), Staten Island Chuck (Staten Island (New York City), New York) and Wiarton Willie (Wiarton, Ontario/Canada).

Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney
Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, 2013
Photo: Anthony Quintano under CC taken from Wikipedia
A Canadian study investigated the weather patterns of thirteen cities over the last 30 to 40 years and compared them to the forecasts of marmots on Groundhog Day, resulting in an approximately hit ratio of 37%. One of the most prominent and well loved but also worst meteorologists of the United States of America is surely the groundhog Punxsutawney Phil, although his hit ratio lies slightly above the average with 39%. The National Climatic Data Centre stated that "(t)he groundhog has shown no talent for predicting the arrival of spring, especially in recent years."