(Originally posted on February 2, 2008)
Several men in top hats surround the tree stump at Gobbler’s Knob. Just after sunrise, one of the tuxedo-clad men reaches into the stump and Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators, and Weather Prophet Extraordinary, is pulled out and presented to the crowd.
The President of the Inner Circle consults with Phil. They speak in a language no one seems to understand. After some time, the President translates Phil’s predictions to the crowd. Will there be an early spring, or has Phil foreseen six more weeks of winter?
Phil is a groundhog, and this ceremony is held every February 2nd in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. It is said that if a groundhog sees his shadow on Groundhog Day, there will be six more weeks of winter. If on the other hand, the day is overcast, and there is no shadow, Spring will come early.
In early to mid February, the days in the Northern Hemisphere become longer. Many animals are pregnant at this time of year, preparing to deliver when the warmer weather arrives. This is the time when the groundhog and other animals that hibernate begin to wake, if only for a short time to check on the climate.
The belief that groundhogs, hedgehogs, badgers and other burrowing mammals have the ability to tell if spring will come early goes back to Roman times. When Europeans came to America, they brought this belief with them. By that time, February 2nd was already known as the day that the groundhog would make his prediction.
The date is also known as Candlemas, a special day in some religions. It is also a cross quarter day, one of the days that mark the midpoint between a solstice and an equinox. Therefore, it is not very surprising that Groundhog Day was assigned to the day marking the midpoint between the beginning of Winter and the coming of Spring.