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Punxatawney Phil Predicts More Winter. Bummer.

February 2nd, 2017 (12:59 pm)

Chief Groundhog Punxatawney Phil saw his shadow this morning, as he always seems to on Groundhog Day. I suspect that the lights from the television cameras make it almost inevitable. That means six more weeks of winter, On the other hand, my yard was filled with robins this morning, and they're supposed to mean spring. So nature is giving us mixed signals this year.

A few years back, I compiled some Groundhog Day History for this blog. In the spirit of the day, I'm reprinting part of that post here:

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 the settler's 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.


Phil Becomes Famous
Groundhog Day is celebrated throughout the United States and Canada, but the holiday's biggest fans know that the real party is at Gobbler's Knob, in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, the home of Punxsutawney Phil. In fact, The Punxsutawney Spirit newspaper is credited with printing the news of the first Groundhog Day observance in 1886. Phil's handlers claim that today's Phil is the same groundhog that prognosticated an early spring that year, and that he is now more than 120 years old. They attribute his longevity to the magical Elixir of Life, a secret recipe that Phil sips every summer at the Groundhog Picnic. Standard-issue teetotaling groundhogs live up to 6 years.

Phil has met presidents and governors. He starred with Bill Murray in the 1993 movie Groundhog Day and has appeared on Oprah. During Prohibition, Phil threatened to impose 60 weeks of winter on the community if he wasn't allowed a drink.


Fun Facts About Groundhogs

  • The average groundhog is 20 inches long and weighs 12 to 15 pounds. Punxsutawney Phil is indeed a giant among groundhogs, measuring 22 inches long and weighing in at 20 pounds.

  • A groundhog's diet consists of lots of greens, fruits, and vegetables and very little water. Most of their liquids come from dewy leaves.

  • A groundhog can whistle when it is alarmed. Groundhogs also whistle in the spring when they want to attract groundhogs of the opposite sex. For that reason, they are sometimes called whistlepigs. Other names for the groundhog include woodchuck and land beaver.

  • Groundhogs are one of the few animals that really hibernate. Hibernation is not just a deep sleep. It is a deep coma. During hibernation, the body temperature drops to a few degrees above freezing, the heart barely beats, blood scarcely flows, and breathing nearly stops.

  • Despite their cute, cuddly appearance, groundhogs can be quite aggressive and will defend themselves if threatened. They are much faster than they look, and they have exceptionally strong jaws.