Groundhog Day!

By Mary Jo

I’ve always found Groundhog Day a pleasant and innocuous holiday. One doesn’t have to buy presents, send cards, or make festive meals (though there are times and places when groundhog was on the menu and considered decent eating.)  Wikipedia lists many alternate names for the groundhog: chuck, wood-shock, groundpig, whistlepig, whistler, thickwood badger, Canada marmot, monax, moonack, weenusk, red monk, land beaver, and, among French Canadians in eastern Canada, siffleux. Click the Wikipedia link above to learn lots more entertaining things about the holiday and groundhogs.

The holiday originated in Germanic Europe and the original critter was a badger, though any hibernating mammal would do, even bears.  When Germans migrated to the New World, they decided that groundhogs would work nicely for  the holiday.  The holiday is also celebrated in Canada, but ground zero for Groundhog Day is Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.  (European badger picture by Wikipedia Commons. Groundhog picture by SA, Wikipedia Commons.)

Since the release of the movie Groundhog Day, the small town has become a place of pilgrimage and celebration on February 2nd.  Some of the locals have fun dressing up and the semi-mythical Punxsutawney Phil lives a quiet and safe life until February 2nd, at which time I’ve read that small electrical shocks are used to drive him out of his burrow for his Big Moment.  In the picture, the man on the left has Phil draped over his shoulder.  The poor little marmot looks drugged. <G> (Picture by Anthony Quintana, Wikipedia Commons.)

Tradition says that if it’s sunny and the groundhog sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter.  If it’s overcast and he can’t see his shadow, spring will come early. Phil’s prediction rate isn’t very good.  Having grown up in the lake effect snow zone of Western New York, I always thought that the idea of winter being over in six weeks was ridiculous.  But Phil and Groundhog Day are pretty harmless and it gives meteorologists something to talk about on February 2nd.

February 2nd is also the date is the Christian Candlemas holiday which celebrates the presentation of Jesus at the Temple.  What I hadn’t realized until I started digging was that Candlemas was grafted onto the older Celtic pagan holiday of Imbolc, the Gaelic pagan celebration that is midway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.

Imbolc celebrated the pagan goddess Brigid, who became Christianized St. Brigid, the patron saint of Ireland.  She’s associated with fertility and lambing and the emergence of spring.  Right is a St. Brigid’s cross woven from reads. (Picture by Culnacreann, Wikipedia)

So the roots of Groundhog Day run very deep. What are your thoughts about the holiday? Do you enjoy it, or feel that the poor little whistlepig should be allowed to sleep in peace?

Mary Jo

28 thoughts on “Groundhog Day!”

  1. I vote for leaving the little animal asleep. The humans just want their picture taken with it, whether it’s really docile from sleep or drugged to remain still.

    There is always more weeks of winter weather than anyone wants.

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  2. I seem to recall the TV news making a thing out of Punxsutawney Phil even before the Groundhog Day movie. Which I’ve never seen, by the way. Maybe I should celebrate today by watching it.

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  3. One has to wonder how poor Phil’s predictions are being affected by climate change! There doesn’t seem to have been as much coverage of the day this year as I remember in the past. And, at least in my part of New England, the weather has been so unpredictable lately, we only believe what we see!

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    • Constance, in the past February was kind of boring and Groundhog Day was something for the weather guys to talk about. Now climate change is creating so much wild weather that the holiday isn’t needed to pump up the weather news!

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  4. Where I live we always have 6 more weeks of winter at this time of year! I do enjoy harmless holidays, no company, no dinners, no presents, no whoop, (does this make me sound antisocial?), but groundhog day does seem a little silly. I do celebrate the official end of the Christmas season the Presentation of Jesus, in a small household celebration.

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  5. I didn’t realise that Groundhog Day was an actual thing!! Just thought it was a film. Here in Ireland we had St Bridget’s Day yesterday, the Ist of February. This year was the 15 hundredth anniversary of the saint. There were a lot of things on around the country to celebrate. When I was growing up, my mother would put out a scarf or one of Dad’s ties on the 31st of January, the eve of the saint because she was said to pass by on that night and bless the articles left out for her. It was then used as a cure for headaches or other pains. It would be tied around the aching part of the body. We have lots of superstitions like this in this country.

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  6. Lets just say I would never pick up a ground hog unless it was completely drugged…. They are FAST! They are AGILE! They have great big claws! They can climb trees…besides being big eating machines that eat all kinds of stuff.

    Can you tell I’m far from fond of them? Grin…They only eat whatever I most like each year. They can be compared to deer with short legs. They also surprise me in the back yard and they (adult ones) lumber along like big linebackers. Worse, I never know which direction they’ll decide to run when I do surprise them….Deer are big but they turn and run away from you.

    Today has been very spring like (63 and sunny). 2 weeks ago it was 12 degrees and sunny… Go figure. The ground hogs in the neighborhood have not poked their noses out of their dens naturally…

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  7. Even as a child I thought it was the silliest thing in the world and couldn’t understand why people made such a big deal about it. But this post was interesting.

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  8. That’s an interesting history. Spring is six weeks away whether a rodent sees its shadow or not. Watching nature for signs of spring, such as hearing the song Redwing Blackbird is heartening after a long, dark winter. Here in the Ohio Valley, we have had a mild winter this year. Hopefully, that means we have a long, temperate spring.

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    • Pamela, I hope you’re right about a long, temperate spring. It’s glorious here in Maryland in the spring months, and I imagine the Ohio Valley is similar.

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  9. February cannot be totally boring! It’s my birthday month as well as a couple long ago presidents had birthdays in this month.

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  10. That was interesting!

    We actually have badgers near my childhood home. Never seen one, but one of my cousins set up a trail camera next to their summer cottage and one night a badger walked past the camera and the cottage.

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  11. Maybe drugs, or maybe just the speeches.
    And the cross is probably reeds, not reads (an understandable slip for a word wench).

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