Groundhog Day: A worldwide tradition
By Joe Olvera ©, 2013
Are we going to have six more weeks of winter? Or are we going to be blessed with the beginning of Spring? Don’t look to your favorite weather person, look instead to Punxsutawney Phil, your favorite rodent-like creature who has been emerging from his cubbyhole underneath the earth since 1886 when the tradition began in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Punxsutawney Phil then became even more famous than even the most famous weathermen. Including Al Roker of the Today Show. The main difference is that Phil doesn’t need a ton of maps and other weather devices, he simply emerges from his hole, and, legend has it that if he sees his shadow six more weeks of frigid weather will prevail. If, however, the day is cloudy and overcast and if Phil doesn’t see his shadow, Spring is just around the corner.
But, lest you think that our Phil is the only groundhog who predicts the weather, you’re sadly mistaken. There is also Dunkirk Dave, Shubenacadle Sam, Wharton Willie, General Beauregard Lee, Peewee the Woodchuck and Staten Island Chuck. Oh, and let’s not forget Balzac Billy, also known as the Prairie Prognosticator – a young upstart who hails from Alberta, Canada.
All Groundhogs look alike, however. They are 20 inches long and can weigh anywhere from 12 to 15 pounds. Our friend, Phil, however, weighs a hefty 20 pounds and is longer than your average groundhog at 22 inches. Most of them are covered with coarse grayish hairs, tipped with brown, or sometimes red. They have short ears, a short tail, short legs, and are very quick movers. They have exceptionally strong jaws. Groundhogs eat mostly greens, fruits and vegetables, but don’t drink a lot of water, getting their moisture from dewy leaves. Groundhogs can whistle when they are alarmed, they can also whistle in the Spring, when they are courting. Phil is also long-living, being able to survive for seven more years due to a special liquid which he is fed by members of his elite club.
There is only one Punxsutawney Phil, however. He has been used for offering support of political events, to rooting for area sports teams, to having a movie made of him that starred Bill Murray, and many other events to which he has lent his famous name and presence. Today’s celebration which honors Phil on Feb. 2 each year attracts tens of thousands of fans from all over the world. They are as excited about viewing Phil’s emerging from his underground lair, as they are in viewing their favorite rock stars. The first observance of Phil is credited with a newspaper called the Punxsutawney Spirit who first recorded the appearance of the famous rodent. Throughout the years, Phil has been part and parcel of some famous events, including:
*During Prohibition, Phil threatened to impose 60 more weeks of winter if he wasn’t allowed a drink;
*In 1958, Phil announced that it was a “United States Chucknik rather than a Soviet Sputnik that circled the earth for the first time
*In1981, Phil wore a yellow ribbon in honor of the American hostages in Iran;
*Phil travelled to Washington D.C. in 1986 to meet with President Ronald Reagan;
*Phil appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show in 1995;
*In 2001, Phil’s prediction was shown live on the JumboTron at Times Square in New York City. Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell attended the ceremonies, becoming the first governor to ever do so.