On Friday, Punxsutawney Phil will emerge to predict winter weather patterns for the138th annual Groundhog Day.
Groundhog Day, in some form or variation, weaves deeply into the tapestry of world history.
Many centuries ago, German residents gathered to celebrate the traditional Catholic holiday, the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus Christ, also known as Candlemas.
Draped in religious attire, clergymen would light candles symbolizing the first appearance of Jesus Christ at the temple during his boyhood.
On this special day, the German residents would note the weather’s condition. If the sun shone outside during the ceremony, they would observe a badger’s shadow casted on the ground. This shadow would predict an elongated winter. However, if there was no shadow, spring would be expected to arrive early.
The animal used to predict the upcoming season changed as the tradition spread to a wider geographical population.
This age-old observance made its way to American soil, surfacing in a Welsh-American store-keeper’s diary in Pennsylvania in 1840: “Today the Germans say the groundhog comes out of his winter quarters and if he sees his shadow he returns in and remains there 40 days,” according to the Library of Congress.
Groundhogs, or woodchucks, are members of the rodent family, “Sciuridae.“ They belong to the marmots group, known as large ground squirrels. Over the years, groundhogs coined the nicknames “whistle pigs” and “land-beavers.” And, for Groundhog Day, they serve as meteorological forecasters.
However, the groundhog’s weather-predicting prowess, regarding this special occasion, is up for debate. Statistically, the groundhog’s predictions are only correct about 39% of the time.
This poses a greater question, then.
Why does this holiday persist beyond its original religious context?
This tradition of lore is a notable pillar in the Pennsylvanian community. In other words, they know how to celebrate this often-overlooked holiday.
The official Punxsutawney Groundhog Club begins its festivities on Thursday and continues with celebrations through the evening into the next day with the grandest activities planned for Friday, Groundhog Day.
“It is so good for our town, so good for the economy here, and it’s so much fun,” said Dannika Brocioun, an associate for the club. “So many different people from so many different places are coming together, and everyone’s happy to be here…My favorite thing is whenever the fireworks go off.”
Celebrating Groundhog Day is not only for the Pennsylvanian community, it is for everyone; it can resonate even 1,909 miles away in Rexburg.
“So whatever your definition of ‘fun’ is, get together and do that,” Brocioun said. “Because it’s a party all night, here.”
Groundhog Day is less about the mysterious weather-predicting ability of groundhogs and more of a reason to get together with friends, family and community.
Here’s to another year of celebrating the long-standing, mystic holiday!