Happy Groundhog Day

Happy What?

If you’re not from Pennsylvania or surrounding states you may never have heard of Groundhog Day.  However, that’s a little hard to believe since even the national news networks get excited every February 2nd, the day we here in Pennsylvania call Groundhog Day.  What exactly is Groundhog Day?  Every February 2nd, since 1886, a groundhog rubs his sleepy little eyes, stretches out his legs, and lumbers to the door of his hutch.  Or, more realistically is awoken from a sound sleep at dawn by a bunch of human beings making a lot of noise and shinning Kleig lights in his face.  Poor little guy, can you imagine how he feels about all this pomp and circumstance.


This beloved little creature is known as Punxsutawney Phil, named after the town in western Pennsylvania where he lives. Not one to type big words of which I don’t know the meaning, I looked up Punxsutawney.  All of the translations were pretty much the same.  Punxsutawney, prounounced “ponksad-uteney” or my version Punk-so-tawn-e, was an Indian village originally settled by Delaware Indians in 1723 before Europeans came to America.  The name Punxsutawney means “sand-fly place” or  “town of the sandflies.”   The vermin were so small they couldn’t be seen and their bite as hot as sparks of fire.  Neither of those translations does the town of Punxsutawney justice.  I have never seen any sand in Punxsy (as we locals call it) or a sandfly for that matter.  What is there is a charming town that still has a busy main street, lots of community pride, and polite inhabitants who say hello to strangers.

Back to Phil…Phil is the big celebrity in Punxsy because he has a very important job.  He is the most famous of all weather forecasters, at least in Pennnsylvania, and it’s his job to let us know whether we are going to have an early spring or six more weeks of winter.  If you know western Pennsylvania, you know you don’t need to get up at dawn to watch a groundhog tell us we going to have six more weeks of winter.  And so, I have never bothered to get out of bed in the wee hours and drive to Punxsy in freezing weather to watch a rodent meander around his fenced yard.  Yes, I’m sorry, a groundhog is a rodent,of the family Sciuridae, belonging to the group of large ground squirrels known as marmots.”


I love this statement taken from the Groundhog Day website.  “This is the main event where Punxsutawney Phil, the Seer of Seers, the Prognosticator of Prognosticators, the worlds most famous groundhog and the only real weather predicting groundhog will greet his true believers and will reveal to Bill Deeley the president of the Inner Circle of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club his prediction for the end of winter.”  Don’t know about Bill, but I wouldn’t hold that varmit too close to my face!

On February 2nd, with the members of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club dressed in tuxedos and top hats, and thousands of “true believers” standing around watching their breath freeze, it’s time for the little guy to make his appearance.  Some years this is fast but most of the time, like any smart Pennsylvanian, Phil does not want to leave his warm little hut.


Cameras roll, speeches flow, breath continues to freeze, and eventually they coax Phil into doing his thing.  Legend has it, that if Phil sees his shadow (I never really noticed how much attention Phil paid to actually looking for his shadow), he will scurry back into his hole and we have six more weeks of a typical Pennsylvania winter.   If, on the other hand, Phil does not see his shadow he may stay out and frolic with his faithful followers and we might get lucky and have six weeks of milder weather, but it is still going to be winter.  Frolic?  Don’t count on that.  At any rate, Punxsutawney has certainly made the most of ancient folklore.


There are variations of the legend but they are all basically the same, “if the sun comes out on Candlemas (also known as Imbolc) the hedgehog will see its shadow and as a result six more weeks of winter will follow.”  Early German settlers brought the practice over with them and used groundhogs rather than hedgehogs.  Here’s a tidbit about Pennsylvania, we are not short on groundhogs!

Punxsutawney has done a great job marketing Phil’s forecasting abilities and building an entire weekend of celebration around his early morning prophecy.  There are breakfasts, banquets, crafts, food vendors, chain saw carving, story telling, any multitude of things to do.  You can visit the Groundhog Museum, listen to music, and even taste a little wine (I’m pretty sure there’s actually a lot of wine tasting going on).  Not to be forgotten are the ever-present souvenirs including adorable stuffed Phils to take home to your friends and family who preferred the comfort of their homes to stamping their cold feet on a mountainside in Western Pennsylvania.

This extraordinary event became so well-known that a movie entitled, what else, “Groundhog Day,” was made in 1993 featuring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell.  You better like this movie because it airs non-stop the week before Phil’s party.  I love the movie but have to tell you, I’m very disappointed it was not actually filmed in Punxsutawney.  It was filmed in Woodstock, Illinois, which I’m sure is also a very nice town.  The big news, however, is that the film was selected by the National Film Preservation Board for preservation in the Library of Congress in 2006, and added to the United States National Film Registry  being deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”  Now that’s cool!


So, if you’re looking for something to do this weekend you need look no further thanks to the citizens of Punxsutawney.  Bring the family and come on down, up, or over, to visit “Punxsutawney Phil, the Seer of Seers, the Prognosticator of Prognosticators, the worlds most famous groundhog” and celebrate the 129th year of Groundhog Day at Gobblers Knob, Monday, February 2nd 2015, in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania!


Not really a groundhog!

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