Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Happy Groundhog Day!

Every February 2nd Punxsutawney Phil emerges from his burrow in Pennsylvania to see if he can see his shadow or not. If he does see his shadow, then we are all in for six more weeks of winter. If he doesn't see his shadow then spring will arrive early this year. 

This morning Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow, and we therefore have six more weeks of winter to look forward to. Some of you might be wondering what a groundhog is. Here is a little information: 


The groundhog (Marmota monax), also known as a woodchuck or whistle-pig, or in some areas as a land-beaver, is a rodent of the family Sciuridae, belonging to the group of large ground squirrels known as marmots. Other marmots, such as the yellow-bellied and hoary marmots, live in rocky and mountainous areas, but the woodchuck is a lowland creature. It is widely distributed in North America and common in the northeastern and central United States. Groundhogs are found as far north as Alaska, with their habitat extending southeast to Alabama.


And what about Groundhog Day. What is this all about. How did it all begin?

Groundhog Day is an annual holiday celebrated on February 2. It is held in the United States and Canada. According to folklore, if a groundhog emerging from its burrow on this day fails to see its shadow, it will leave the burrow, signifying that winter will soon end. If on the other hand, the groundhog sees its shadow, the groundhog will supposedly retreat into its burrow, and winter will continue for six more weeks. The holiday, which began as a Pennsylvania German custom in southeastern and central Pennsylvania in the 18th and 19th centuries, has its origins in ancient European weather lore, wherein a badger or sacred bear is the prognosticator as opposed to a groundhog. The holiday also bears some similarities to the medieval Catholic holiday of Candlemas. It also bears similarities to the Pagan festival of Imbolc, the seasonal turning point of the Celtic calendar, which is celebrated on February 2 and also involves weather prognostication.
Modern customs of the holiday involve celebrations where early morning festivals are held to watch the groundhog emerging from its burrow. In southeastern Pennsylvania, Groundhog Lodges (Grundsow Lodges) celebrate the holiday withfersommlinge, social events in which food is served, speeches are made, and one or more g'spiel (plays or skits) are performed for entertainment. The Pennsylvania German dialect is the only language spoken at the event, and those who speak English pay a penalty, usually in the form of a nickel, dime or quarter, per word spoken, put into a bowl in the center of the table.
The largest Groundhog Day celebration is held in PunxsutawneyPennsylvania, where crowds as high as 40,000 have gathered to celebrate the holiday since at least 1886. Other celebrations of note in Pennsylvania take place in Quarryvillein Lancaster County, the Anthracite Region of Schuylkill County, the Sinnamahoning Valley and Bucks County. Outside of Pennsylvania, notable celebrations occur in the Frederick and Hagerstown areas of Maryland, the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, Woodstock, Illinois, and among the Amish populations of over twenty states and Canada. The University of Dallas in Irving,Texas has taken Groundhog Day as its official university holiday and organizes a large-scale celebration every year in honor of the Groundhog.
Groundhog Day received worldwide attention as a result of the 1993 film of the same name, Groundhog Day, which was set in Punxsutawney (though filmed primarily in WoodstockIllinois) and featured Punxsutawney Phil. 

I have reviewed several wonderful picture books for children about Groundhog day. You can read these reviews here





2 comments:

Brimful Curiosities said...

Those of us in Wisconsin will enjoy an early spring thanks to Jimmy the Groundhog's prediction.

Marya Jansen-Gruber said...

Here in Oregon the prediction seemed to be following through - it was brrrrrrrr cold.