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