I Bet You Didn’t Think Groundhog Day Was This!
February 2nd is traditionally Groundhog Day in the United States and Canada. It's one of those holidays that you'd never really notice if it hadn't been for a 1993 movie featuring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell with the same name. They put the furry little rodent on the map, but it was a holiday steeped with tradition and even religious meaning! For those of you who don't know what Groundhog Day is, it is the day that a groundhog comes out of his burrow and looks for his shadow. If it is cloudy, then winter is almost over. If it is sunny and he sees his shadow, then there will be 6 more weeks of winter. Here are five bits of trivia for you about Groundhog Day. Feel free to pass this info along to your friends and wow them with your knowledge of this little-known holiday.
What Exactly Is A Groundhog?
Groundhogs are rodents that are also known as Land Beavers and Woodchucks. They are cousins to an animal known as the ground squirrel (also called the marmot). Groundhogs are found as far north as Alaska, with their habitat extending southeast to Alabama. From nose to tail, they measure anywhere from two to three feet in length and can weigh up to thirty-one pounds. That's one big ground squirrel! Groundhogs eat mainly vegetables, but are known to consume some insects.
Origins Of Groundhog Day
So why are we looking at groundhogs searching for shadows? The groundhog prognosticating the weather goes back to early Christian and Pagan times where the Germans and Celts would look towards a badger or a bear to make the determination. These holidays were called Candlemas or Imbolc which was the seasonal turning point for the Celts. They were both celebrated on this day and the groundhog ended up winning out for the holiday because the Pennsylvania Dutch (who were actually German if you can follow that) celebrated it along by holding a fersommlinge, or public get-together to tell stories, eat, drink, and put on plays. Sounds like fun!
A Groundhog By Any Other Name
The most famous groundhog of all is Punxsutawney Phil of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. No doubt the movie made him the groundhog that he is today, but even before he hit the silver screen, the small town in Western Pennsylvania was drawing huge crowds to see him. Other cities around the United States and Canada have their own version of Phil. If you go searching, you will find such colorful characters as: Staten Island Chuck, Woodstock Willie, General Beauregard Lee, and Smith Lake Jake. Not all of them have quite gained enough popularity to fill the shoes (or burrow) of Phil.
How Accurate Are The Groundhogs?
Groundhog Day proponents state that the rodents' forecasts are accurate 75% to 90% of the time. These may be giving the woodchucks a bit too much credit. A Canadian study for 13 cities in the past 30 to 40 years puts the success rate level at 37%. Also, the National Climatic Data Center reportedly has stated that the overall prediction accuracy rate is around 39%. However, to be more accurate, since there are always six more weeks of winter after Groundhog Day, and the concept of early spring in the astronomical sense simply does not exist, then whenever the groundhog sees its shadow and predicts six more weeks of winter, the groundhog is always right, but whenever it predicts an early spring, it is always wrong. The results have an approximate 80% rate of accuracy, the average percentage of times a groundhog sees its shadow.
Groundhog Day Around The World
Where there are no groundhogs, one would expect there not to be any Groundhog Days. Right? Makes perfect sense. But you would be wrong. In Alaska, there aren't many groundhogs, but they have a related animal, the Marmot. So, in 2009, then Alaskan-governor, Sarah Palin, who loved the Bill Murray movie, gave Alaskans what they had been begging for: Marmot Day. Look it up, it's an official holiday in the Great White North. On February 15th (which is February 2nd, according to the Julian calendar) the Orthodox Christians in Serbia celebrate the Sretenje or The Meeting of the Lord. It is believed that on this day the bear will awake from winter dormancy, and if in this sleepy and confused state it sees (meets) its own shadow, it will get scared and go back to sleep for an additional 40 days, thus prolonging the winter. Thus, if it is sunny on Sretenje, it is the sign that the winter is not over yet. If it is cloudy, it is a good sign that the winter is about to end. If it is hungry, someone might lose their face...