with John Maunder
Groundhog Day, February 2, is a popular tradition in the United States. It is also a legend that traverses many centuries, its origins clouded in the mists of time with ethnic cultures and animals awakening on specific dates.
Media reports for February 2, 2019 said that the famous groundhog in Pennsylvania, Punxsutawney did not see its shadow and that means that in at least in Pennsylvania the winter is nearly over.
CNN report that thousands of people gathered Saturday at Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, to watch a famous groundhog deliver his highly anticipated forecast.
Punxsutawney Phil emerged from his burrow around 7:30 a.m. and did not see his shadow, predicting an early spring for us all.
A member of Phil's Inner Circle read from the groundhog's prediction scroll to the cheers and applause from the crowd.
"Faithful followers, there is no shadow of me and a beautiful spring it shall be”.
Myths such as this tie our present to the distant past, when nature did indeed influence our lives –and to many, nature is still influencing out lives. It is also the day the Groundhog comes out of his hole after a long winter sleep to look for his shadow.
Tradition has it if the groundhog sees his shadow, he regards it as an omen of six more weeks of bad weather and returns to his hole. But, if the day is cloudy and, hence, shadow less, he takes it as a sign of spring and stays above ground.
The groundhog tradition stems from similar beliefs associated with Candlemas Day and the days of early Christians in Europe. It marked a milestone in the winter and the weather that day was important. And according to an old English Song:
“If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Come, winter, have another flight;
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Go winter, and come not again.”
The Roman legions, supposedly brought this tradition to the Teutons, or Germans, who picked it up and concluded that if the sun made an appearance on Candlemas Day, an animal, the hedgehog, would cast a shadow; thus predicting six more weeks of bad weather, which they interpolated as the length of the ‘Second Winter'.
In the United States, Pennsylvania's earliest settlers were Germans and they found groundhogs in profusion in many parts of the State. They determined the groundhog, resembling the European hedgehog, was a most intelligent and sensible animal; and therefore decided if the sun did appear on February 2nd, this wise animal would see its shadow and hurry back into its underground home for another six weeks of winter.
The the Germans thus recited:
“For as the sun shines on Candlemas Day,
So far will the snow swirl until the May”.
This passage may be the one most closely-represented by the first Punxsutawney Groundhog Day observances because there were references to the length of shadows in early Groundhog Day predictions. The ancient Candlemas legend and similar belief continue to be recognised annually on February 2, due to the efforts of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club.
Early observances of Phil's (the Groundhog) predictions were conducted privately in the wooded areas around the town. Today, the celebration today sees thousands of visitors from worldwide as revellers await Phil's appearance with national-wide TV coverage.
The ‘Punxsutawney Spirit' newspaper is credited with printing the news of the first observance in 1886 when it states that up to the time of going to press the beast has not seen his shadow.”
In 1993, Columbia Pictures released the movie Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray. In the years following the release of the movie, record crowds numbering as high as 30,000 have visited Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney.
Punxsutawney Phil gets his longevity from drinking “groundhog punch”. One sip, which is administered every summer at the Groundhog Picnic, gives him seven more years of life.
Contrary to media explanations , Phil's forecasts are not made in advance by the Inner Circle. Indeed, only after Phil emerges from his burrow on February 2 does he speaks to the Groundhog Club President in “Groundhog Language”. Phil's proclamation is then translated for the world to hear.
The US National Weather Service notes that the Punxsutawney Groundhog Day predictions have been right 10 times and wrong 15 times in recent years. They comment that “Unfortunately ,the famous groundhog has shown no talent for predicting the arrival of spring, especially in recent years, and Phil's competitor groundhogs across the Nation fared no better.”
However, who knows what the future groundhogs will forecast.
The physicist Leo Szilard once announced to his friend Hans Bethe that he was thinking of keeping a diary: 'I don't intend to publish, I am merely going to record the facts for the information of God.' 'Don't you think God knows the facts?' Bethe asked. 'Yes' said Szilard. ‘He knows the facts, but he does not know THIS version of the facts'
"(From Hans Christian von Baeyer, "Taming the Atom" (from the preface paragraph in "A Short History of Nearly Everything", by Bill Bryson, A Black Swan Book, 2004)
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