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Phil Predicts Six More Weeks

February 2nd, 2012 (11:04 am)

Chief Groundhog Punxatawney Phil saw his shadow this morning, as he always seems to. I suspect that the lights from the television cameras make it almost inevitable. That means six more weeks of winter, but if those six weeks are anything like yesterday's temperatures -- which felt more like May 1 than February 1 -- I can live with that.

Three years ago, I compiled some Groundhog History for this blog. In the spirit of the day, I'm going to reprint part of that post here. For more on All Things Whistlepig, you can go back and read the entire post at this link:


A Little History of Groundhog Day
Every year on February 2, the groundhog -- let's say, specifically, Punxsutawney Phil -- emerges from his winter hidey hole, bleary eyed from his long winter's sleep. According to legend, if the groundhog steps outside and sees his shadow on this morning, he will be frightened back into his burrow, and there will be six more weeks of winter weather. If the day is cloudy so that he does not see his shadow, spring will come early.

The Groundhog Day tradition grew out of beliefs associated with Candlemas Day in Medieval Europe. It marked a milestone in the winter, and the weather that day was important. According to an old Scottish poem:

As the light grows longer
The cold grows stronger
If Candlemas be fair and bright
Winter will have another flight
If Candlemas be cloud and snow
Winter will be gone and not come again
A farmer should on Candlemas day
Have half his corn and half his hay
On Candlemas day if thorns hang a drop
You can be sure of a good pea crop

Roman soldiers spread the Candelmas tradition to the Teutons, or Germans. They expanded on it by concluding that if the sun shone on Candlemas Day, an animal -- the hedgehog -- would cast a shadow, predicting six more weeks of bad weather. Eventually, descendants of those Germans emigrated to the United States and settled in Pennsylvania, arguably the hub of all modern Groundhog Day activity. European hedgehogs were in short supply in their new home, but Pennsylvania was home to a large population of groundhogs. Soon, the settlers realized that the groundhog possessed the wisdom and good sense to know that it should scurry back into its burrow, hedgehog-like, if its shadow appeared on Candelmas Day. And a new holiday tradition was born.