There they stand, every Feb. 2, those very important men in their top hats and fine coats, waiting for a fat little rodent to emerge from his home and make a prediction.
As the legend goes, if the groundhog comes out of his burrow on a sunny day, he’ll see his shadow and run back inside, which means another six weeks of winter lay ahead. If the groundhog comes out on a cloudy day, he won’t see his shadow, which means folks can expect an early spring.
Once known as Candlemas, some theorize that Groundhog Day has been around for close to 1,000 years. When people still used the Julian calendar, the spring equinox came exactly six weeks after Feb. 2. The introduction of the Gregorian calendar caused some confusion, so they appointed a rodent as mediator.
In Pennsylvania, folks have been gathering by the thousands in Punxsutawney since the 19th century. Although Groundhog Day celebrations take place throughout the United and States and Canada, the one in Punxsutawney is the most famous, not only because it receives national news coverage, but also because it was immortalized in the movie “Groundhog Day.” Yes, Ontario’s Wiarton Willie has been forever overshadowed (pun intended) by Punxsutawney Phil. Other, less famous groundhogs include Smith Lake Jake in Graysville, Alabama; Staten Island Chuck in Staten Island, New York; Balzac Billy in Balzac, Alberta; and Shubenacadie Sam in Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia.
Some say the groundhog has an accuracy rate of 75% to 90%. Others, who have conducted actual studies on the phenomenon, say it’s closer to 40%.
Ridiculous or not, the groundhog as prognosticator is a widely accepted norm. Here’s hoping Punxsutawney Phil or Wiarton Willie, or whichever little guy comes out to make a prediction, emerges under cloudy a cloudy sky.
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