For as long as I can remember, I, along with my fellow Americans, have anxiously awaited Punxsutawney Phil’s all-knowing weather prediction every February 2nd. Will we suffer through six more weeks of winter or is a beautiful spring finally on the horizon?
To be honest, I’ve never given much thought to where this tradition came from. I’ve simply accepted it as a quirky little holiday and gone about my business. Needless to say, I was a little surprised when I found out that it was German immigrants who brought this tradition to America. But, here’s the twist — the groundhog was not their first choice of weatherman.
A little background information: in Europe, February 2nd was known as Candlemas Day, a day that celebrated Mary’s purification forty days after the birth of Jesus. Candlemas had also been seen as an important day for weather, as this was the time that sun reached the mid-point between the solstice and the equinox. Due to certain superstitions, some Europeans believed that the weather six weeks from Candlemas Day would be the exact opposite of the current situation. So, if February 2nd was cloudy and the sun was nowhere to be seen, a beautiful spring was on the horizon, but if it was a sunny day with blue skies, there would be six more weeks of cold, cloudy winter:
“If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Come, Winter, have another flight;
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Go Winter, and come not again.” (groundhog.org)
Where does the groundhog come in, you ask? Well, due to traditions passed on by the ancient Romans, certain animals were believed to have weather-predicting capabilities in various European countries. In Germany, this animal was a badger. From medieval times, people had believed that the animal awoke from his hibernation to make the weather prediction for the farmers. If the badger didn’t see his shadow when he came out, it was a good time to begin the planting, but if the badger did see his shadow, the cold would prevent farming for the next several weeks.
Moving on to 19th-century America… badgers apparently weren’t very common where the German immigrants lived in Pennsylvania. The groundhog, however, was quite popular, so the German settlers simply decided to assign the impressive weather powers of the badger to the local groundhog. Why not? As the groundhog was all the rage at the time, Groundhog Day took off, celebrated for the first time on February 2, 1887. The popularity of the groundhog is described below:
“In the 1880s … groundhog was the cuisine of choice at the Punxsutawney Elks Lodge. Devotees later formed the Groundhog Club, which hosted both the annual Groundhog Day ceremony and a summertime groundhog hunt followed by a picnic featuring a variety of groundhog dishes and a “groundhog punch” that sounds equally appetizing — a combination of vodka, milk, eggs, orange juice “and other ingredients[.]” (http://digg.com/2016/groundhog-day-origin)
So, whether you prefer to put your trust in a badger or a groundhog, let’s hope that both animals predict an early spring for all of us! Now off to drink some groundhog punch…