I spend a lot of my time here attempting to explain (and understand) some of the quirks of British culture. However today I thought I’d devote my post to explaining one of those quirky American customs I grew up with in Pennsylvania Dutch Country: Groundhog Day.
When I first met my husband, perhaps after we’d moved from the UK to Ohio, we had a discussion about this odd American tradition. “You mean it’s real?” he asked. “It’s not just a movie?”
Oh yes, it’s real all right. And perfectly normal if you grew up where I did. The nearest prognosticating mammal to us was Punxsutawney Phil, who has been predicting the likelihood of six more weeks of winter, or an early spring, since about 1886. I don’t know how they managed the day back then, but these days there’s a swarm of media, spectators, the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club (yes, really…and they wear top hats!), and Phil, of course, who is “gently encouraged” to come out of his burrow to make his prediction. In other words, he’s removed from his burrow, whether he wants to be or not.
And why, you may ask? Apparently, it’s an old Pennsylvania German custom from southeastern and central Pennsylvania with origins in ancient European weather lore, when a badger or sacred bear was meant to foretell the weather future. (Don’t worry, I am probably just as confused as you are.)
At 7:28 am every February 2nd, at a place called Gobblers Knob, Phil’s handlers pull him out of hibernation and Phil “speaks” to them in “Groundhogese” to let them know his prediction. If he sees his shadow, six more weeks of winter it will be. No shadow, an early spring. How he doesn’t get confused with all the lights from the TV camera crews around him I don’t know.
And in case you were wondering: Phil is wrong about 63% of the time.
PS: This morning he predicted six more weeks of winter. Huh. Considering spring is about six weeks away, who’s surprised?
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.