It’s February 2nd, and that means Punxsutawney Phil and a plethora of other groundhogs have looked for their shadows. Some of the critters have seen their shadow when they crawled or were hauled out of their burrows – thus predicting 6 more weeks of winters. Other groundhogs (or in the case of Alaska, marmots) didn’t see their shadow – so they’re predicting an early spring. But where did this groundhog weather prognostication skill come from?
As usual, my fascination with folklore sends me back to Europe. Ancient Roman, Celtic, and Early Christian beliefs all seem to contribute to the importance of February 2nd as a weather-predicting date. But whether Candlemas or Imbolc or the Feast Day of Sretenje, a furry animal and the amount of sunshine seem to hold great importance.
Various sources say groundhogs (and Alaskan marmots) are substitutes for the hedgehogs, badgers, and sacred bears of Europe. As for me, I’m pretty sure I’d be willing to watch a hedgehog creep from his burrow and look for his shadow. A badger seems a far more formidable creature, and I don’t think I’d want to be too close when he clawed his way to daylight and checked out the shadow-casting abilities of the sun. And I’m quite certain, I’d leave the “checking for a shadow” duties to the professionals in the case of a sacred bear.
I must admit to visiting Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania a few years ago. I drove to Gobbler’s Knob and walked down to the hut that Phil is placed in prior to his prognostication appearance. Then, visited the famous groundhog in his library home where he lives in a climate-controlled environment eating dog food. And, by the way, there is a back-up groundhog living right next to him – just in case Phil the First isn’t quite up to snuff on his big day.
I was disappointed to learn that the movie, “Groundhog Day,” starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell was not filmed in Punxsutawney. It seems the snowfall in the area was too unpredictable. Nevertheless, the little town in Pennsylvania was a charming place to visit.
Charming is perhaps the right word for Groundhog Day. There’s a charm to the customs brought by the hodgepodge of immigrants that settled the United States. And for me, those charming customs that wind back to olden times in far places, are the beginning places for my fiction.