Monday, February 02, 2009
Happy Groundhogs Day!
February 2nd brings the most-watched weather forecast of the year—and the only one led by a rodent. Legend has it that on this morning, if a groundhog can see its shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter. If it cannot see its shadow, spring is on the way.
Since a groundhog hibernates for the winter, its coming out of the ground is a natural sign of spring. In Europe centuries ago, people watched for other hibernating animals, including badgers, bears, and hedgehogs, as signs of winter's end. Germans who immigrated to Pennsylvania in the mid-1800s began keeping an eye on the groundhog. The widespread population of the rodent made it a handy agent for this particular weather superstition.
Throughout history numerous holidays have marked this seasonal crossroads. Among these is Candlemas Day, February 2, a Christian holiday that celebrates Mary's ritual purification. Early Christians believed that if the sun came out on Candlemas Day, winter would last for six weeks more.
The ancient Romans observed a mid-season festival on February 5, and the pagan Irish celebrated one around February 1. In many parts of Europe early February might herald the start of spring, when crops could be planted.
In the 1880s some friends in Punxsutawney, Penn., went into the woods on Candlemas Day to look for groundhogs. This outing became a tradition, and a local newspaper editor nicknamed the seekers "the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club." Starting in 1887 the search became an official event centered on a groundhog called Punxsutawney Phil. A ceremony still takes place every year.
Today Punxsutawney Phil lives in a climate-controlled habitat adjoining the Punxsutawney Library. A local celebrity, he gained national fame in the 1993 movie Groundhog Day (which was shot in scenic Woodstock, Illinois). The weather-watching rodent's predictions are recorded in the Congressional Records of our National Archive. So far, Phil has seen his shadow about 85% of the time.
Punxsutawney Phil predicts a long winter. More than 15,000 revelers milled about in a misty snow waiting for the prediction, as fireworks exploded overhead and the "Pennsylvania Polka" and other music blared in the background. There are unconfirmed reports of a disturbance during the ceremony. Numerous spectators claim to have seen a suspicious character milling with the crowd.
We know go live to Punxsutawney to our roaming reporter Phil Connors.
Hello, everyone, this is your action news reporter with all the news
that is news across the nation, on the scene at the Punxsutawney Annual Groundhogs Day Festival. There seems to have been some disturbance here. Pardon me, sir, did you see what happened?
Yeah, I did. I's standin' overe there by the hot chocolate stand, and here he
come, running through the crowd, through the cotton candy and doughnuts, nekkid as a jay bird. And I hollered over t' Ethel, I said, "Don't look, Ethel!" But it's too late, she'd already been incensed.
Here he comes, look at that, look at that There he goes, look at that, look at that
And he ain't wearin' no clothes.
Oh, yes, they call him the Squirrelly Streak Look at that, look at that Fastest thing on four feet Look at that, look at that He's just as proud as he can be
Of his anatomy He goin' give us a peek
Oh, yes, they call him the Squirrelly Streak Look at that, look at that He likes to show off his haiiry physique Look at that, look at that If there's an audience to be found He'll be streakin' around Invitin' public critique
This is your action news reporter Phil Connors once again, and we're here at the gas
station. Pardon me, sir, did you see what happened?
Yeah, I did. I's just in here gettin my car checked, he just appeared
out of the traffic. Come streakin' around the grease rack there, didn't
have nothin' on but a smile. I looked in there, and Ethel was gettin'
her a cold drink. I hollered, "Don't look, Ethel!" But it was too
late. She'd already been mooned. Flashed her right there in front of
the shock absorbers.
Larry the camera dude was forunate to have captured a picture of this Squirrelly Streaker when he stopped long enough for the camera. (Click on the picture to open)
This is Phil Connors reporting live from Punxsutawney. We'll keep you updated as the news develops.