What do you get when you combine a groundhog, a shadow and a somewhat silly tradition? Groundhog Day, of course! Every Feb. 2, we look to a chubby groundhog named Punxsutawney Phil to pop out of the ground and let us know whether winter is staying or leaving. If he sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter; no shadow means an early spring. It might seem bizarre to some (if not everyone), but the historic creature comes from a much more interesting past than most would think.
Unknown to many, the origin of Groundhog Day stems from a Christian tradition, known as Candlemas Day. The tradition entails a clergy blessing and distributing candles to communities during the winter months. The candles represented how cold and long the winter season would be. While this might have seemed simple enough, the Germans decided to add their own twist. Instead of using candles, a hedgehog was used as a means of predicting the weather.
In 1887, the first Groundhog Day was established in America. Taking place in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, at Gobbler’s Knob, the candle-to-hedgehog tradition transformed once again. Since the critters were everywhere in Pennsylvania, the groundhog took over the hedgehog’s position. A newspaper editor, who was part of a group of groundhog hunters, declared that Phil, the Punxsutawney groundhog, was America’s only true weather-forecasting groundhog.
Interestingly enough, while Pennsylvania may be the most infamous location for weather-predicting groundhogs, other spots in America have established their own psychic rodents. Alabama has their special Birmingham Bill, while New York has their own Staten Island Chuck. As odd as the tradition seems, it’s obvious the practice has stuck.
But, is He Accurate?
It’s pretty concerning that we trust a non-verbal, chubby rodent to predict our weather, but it is what it is. Even though the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club takes care of Phil year-round, they don’t always get to pick what the groundhog decides to do. He may not be able to talk, but the little guy does ultimately have the final say as to what will happen in the next six weeks.
According to the Groundhog Club’s records, 99 forecasts of more winter and 15 forecasts of an early spring have been predicted over the years (there have been at least nine years without a prediction or any idea of what happened to Phil during those times). Considering those predictions, Phil has only been right 39 percent of the time. Even more unfortunate, he’s been getting less and less accurate as time goes on. So, as cute as he might be, the chunky critter is just not that great at his yearly duty.
As much as we’d like to yell, “YOU HAD ONE JOB!” at Punxsutawney Phil, we have to remember that he is just a groundhog. And, while traditions are always comforting and exciting each time they come around, it’s probably safe to say that you shouldn’t pack up your winter clothes or plan a last minute ski trip based on Phil’s decision. We love you Punxsutawney Phil, but that doesn’t mean we have to (or should) trust you.
Taylor Downs is a senior professional writing major from Kalamazoo, Mich. You will almost always find her with coffee in one hand or hyperventilating at Sephora. She loves going out to eat, indulging in TV reruns and spending time with her family and friends.