February 2, 2006

The Meaning and History of Groundhog Day

February 2nd. The seasonal holiaday of Groundhog Day. All I ever ask is why? So I did some research.

This holiday was originally called Candlemass Day and took root in 6th century Christian lore. The nice little Christians would just put candles in their windows on the 40th day after winter solstice and offer a sweet prayer for good weather. A few centuries later those morbidly creative Germans got ahold of it, the became a whole new beast. Germans thought that any holiday worth its salt should involve vicious animals and bitterly cold hikes through the woods. The new arrangement was that on the midpoint between winter solstice and spring equinox, if the day was sunny, any animal that hibernated would see a shadow and there would be gloomy weather until the equinox. If it was cloudy, the animal would see no shadow and spring would come early.

The Germans originally used bears but after a bear ate the only German brave enough to wake him up, they switched to badgers which although surly, have never actually eaten someone. They wanted to maintain the illusion of bravery. But when German immigrants made their way to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania in the mid 1800, they were unable to convince their Yankee yellow-bellied neighbors to use anything more dangerous than the groundhog (also known as the woodchuck). The first actual reference to Groundhog Day in America was in 1841. It was a journal entry from some guy in Morgantown, PA who sounded just as confused by the whole concept as I am. Something like "so my neighbor told me that his wife told him that the groundhog under the porch told the milkmaid Gretta that it's going to snow for a month. Like you could ever even know that."

And the rest is history. Punxsutawney has exploited their little groundhog for every penny possible. They admit to keeping him "healthy" on a steady diet of dog food and ice cream to maintain his gargantuan weight of 15 pounds. I guess they figure if you make anything fat enough, it's got to be cute - right? Groundhogs have a lifespan as short as a year if they aren't fat enough, and usually don't even survive their hibernation unless they have really packed on the pounds. It would be pretty embarassing for the mayor of Punxsutawney to reach into Phil's burrow on Feb. 2nd and pull out a stinky corpse. You've got to belive they check it out the night before.

Phil has become so famous that he has actually made an appearance on Oprah in 1995, met President Reagan in 1986 and started in his own movie in 1993 co-starring with Bill Murray. I guess it could have been worse. The early settlers could have decided to use a rat instead of a badger. But Rat Day has an ominous ring to it. The photo op would have been the same though. A disgustingly overweight varmit with scary teeth getting pampered year round so that the townsfolk of Punxsutawney don't have to confront the fact that they'd rather live by the beach.

By the way, today Phil predicted 6 more weeks of winter. I guess he was ticked that the people of Punxsutawney have been feeding him Safeway brand ice cream instead of his favorite, Ben and Jerry's. Come on folks, if you are going to go through the trouble of having a groundhog tell your fortunes, you could at least keep him happy!

1 comment:

Stephanie said...

I think Phil's just sour it really hasn't been "winter" this year. I know I am! We need some sort of creature to tell us whether we're going to get some rain or not; who cares about winter?! What about "Alligator Day" or "Marmot Day", something cute and marketable to be our rain gauge? Local weathermen don't count even if they are fuzzy or think they're cute. Yesterday one of our wxmen told me that they originally wanted a weather chimp but settled for him instead since he could pick up things and peel bananas with his toes.