Ground­hog Day cel­e­bra­tions

Wanganui Midweek - - WHAT’S ON - with Pe­ter Hall

Get up, Sleepy Bones!

Fe­bru­ary 2 in Canada and the USA is wake-up time for Wiar­ton Wil­lie, Oc­toraro Ophie, Mount Joy Min­nie, Gretna Grady, Punx­sutawney Phil and many other of their friends and ac­quain­tances.

It’s is none other than a mid­win­ter rous­ing for a host of ground­hogs who are in the busi­ness of pre­dict­ing the weather — a no­tion that can be traced back to Europe. Hiber­nat­ing an­i­mals were thought to have prophetic dreams and peo­ple turned to bears and badgers to learn more about the weather.

Mount Joy Min­nie, who al­ways wears a jaunty spring bon­net, has been a prog­nos­ti­ca­tor for over a decade now and joins a long line of ground­hogs in the busi­ness of pre­dict­ing the up­com­ing weather. The his­tory of the ground­hog pre­dic­tions goes back to the 1830s in North Amer­ica when a shop­keeper in Mor­gan­town, Penn­syl­va­nia, wrote in his ledger that he ex­pected his Ger­manspeak­ing neigh­bours to watch for ground­hogs on Feb 2, and that is the first doc­u­mented men­tion of Ground­hog Day. In 1887 ad­ven­tur­ers made the first of­fi­cial trek to Gob­bler’s Knob in Punx­sutawney in search of a ground­hog named af­ter King Phillip.

But why Fe­bru­ary 2? Early Fe­bru­ary is half­way through the North Amer­i­can win­ter and a time to take stock of sup­plies, es­pe­cially for farm­ers. It is also Can­dle­mas, a Chris­tian fes­ti­val that marks when Mary made her first public ap­pear­ance af­ter giv­ing birth to Je­sus. She was con­fined for 40 days which might re­flect on how cooped up folks feel half­way though win­ter.

And how long will win­ter last? De­pends on whether the ground­hog can see his shadow or not! If the shadow is seen then it’s six more weeks of win­ter and the ground­hog re­turns to his bur­row for a nap. No shadow — then spring will be early that year!

And the ground­hogs play along with the cel­e­bra­tion.

The ground­hog, ac­cord­ing to Wikipedia, is also known as a wood­chuck — re­mem­ber that say­ing of ‘How much wood would a wood­chuck chuck if a wood­chuck could chuck wood?’ — and is a ro­dent of the fam­ily Sci­uri­dae, be­long­ing to the group of large ground squir­rels known as mar­mots. Ground­hogs can be lured from their hi­ber­na­tion be­cause it is prime time for mat­ing. They are wait­ing for the sig­nal. Ap­par­ently by drum­ming on the up­per edge of the ground­hog hole you can get them to come out be­cause that is what they do to sum­mon each other for mat­ing. The male ground­hog goes to the fe­male’s hole and takes its paws and drums on the ground and whis­tles.

So on Fe­bru­ary 2 in many com­mu­ni­ties the tra­di­tion has grown from small groups to big com­mu­nity events, usu­ally start­ing [for the hu­mans] with cof­fee and dough­nuts, and then wak­ing Wil­lie, Ophie, Min­nie, Grady, Phil and count­less other ground­hogs be­gins.

Catch the movie Ground­hog Day and you will see Punx­sutawney Phil him­self and the an­nual Ground­hog Day cer­e­mony.

PIC­TURE / JEFF SWENSEN /GETTY IM­AGES

GROUND­HOG DAY: Ground­hog han­dler Ron Ploucha holds Punx­sutawney Phil dur­ing Ground­hog Day fes­tiv­i­ties on Fe­bru­ary 2, 2012 in Punx­sutawney, Penn­syl­va­nia.

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