The Weather Capitol of the World

Have we done this before?
Have we done this before?
Happy Candlemas ya’ll. Because this is a deeply religious holiday that relates directly to Jesus’ first visit to the holy temple in Jerusalem millions of Americans will celebrate it by worshiping a rodent and drinking beer. Lots and lots of beer. If they go all out lederhosen and accordions will be involved. Not that I’m complaining, I’m a big fan of beer, but it does seem like an odd way to celebrate something so divinely inspired. Then again look at what happened to Christmas. I guess there’s precedent. Okay, if there’s going to be rodent worship, at least let it be a cool rodent. In that regard we struck pure gold. Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators and Weather Prophet Extraordinary, that’s his full name as decreed by the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club in 1897, is the groundhog in question and he has a wonderfully cool name. That makes our favorite rodent 116 years old this week. Either the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club has pulled the old switcherooo a couple of times or scientists might want to take a trip to Pennsylvania and test the water. Well, maybe not the water since groundhogs rarely drink it. They get most of their moisture from plant dew. Then again, knowing what fish do in water they may be on to something there.

Anyway, here are five annoying facts about Groundhog Day that you will never unlearn.

1. Punxsutawney Phil has seen his shadow 97 times, has not seen it 15 times, and nine years are unaccounted for.

2. The National Climatic Data Center reportedly stated that Phil’s prediction’s have been correct 39 percent of the time. This number is in conflict with Phil’s club, which states he’s been right 100 percent of the time.

3. According to the funny website groundhog.org, there’s a legend that during Prohibition, Phil threatened to impose 60 weeks of winter on the community if he wasn’t allowed a drink.

4. In the years following the release of Groundhog Day, a 1993 film starring Bill Murray, crowds numbering as high as 30,000 have visited Gobbler’s Knob, a tiny hill in Punxsutawney where the ceremony takes place.

5. Though groundhogs typically live only six to eight years, Groundhog Day lore suggests that Phil drinks a magic elixir every summer, which gives him seven more years of life.

Is it just me or does Gobbler’s Knob sound like a great name for a porno?

And, while the article mentions one funny web site dedicated to the day, I can assure you that there are hundreds. In fact the hullabaloo is so overwhelming that the Daily Mirror in London was forced to stop writing about the war in the Middle East and dedicate a page to the history of Groundhog Day.

It’s Groundhog Day in America, but – apart from the Bill Murray film – what does that mean?

In fact, the spring celebration has nothing to do with living the same day on repeat.

We’ve brought together all you need to know about Groundhog Day in ten handy hints.

10. Groundhogs, otherwise known as woodchucks, are rodents. They are one of the few animals that do truly hibernate throughout the winter, often building special winter burrows for their winter sleep.

9. The legend goes that when the groundhog comes out of his burrow from hibernation, he will look for his own shadow.

If it is sunny and he sees it, he will take fright and go back into his hole. Winter will then carry on for another six weeks. If it is cloudy and he doesn’t see his shadow, then spring will arrive early.

8. The tradition began in Pennsylvania in 18th and 19th centuries. Based in ancient European weather lore where badgers were used to predict the length of winter.

7. The legend of Groundhog Day has been spotted in two old British songs. In a Scottish couplet, it says: “If Candlemas Day is bright and clear, there’ll be two winters in the year.”

In an 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”

6. Every year on February 2, all across Pennsylvania there are early morning festivals to watch the groundhogs emerge from their burrows. Punxsutawney holds the biggest Groundhog Day celebration in America, where over 20,000 people attend each year.

5. In some areas there are German-Pennsylvanian Groundhog Lodges that hold big parties with traditional German food and skits. Pennsylvanian-German dialect is the only language allowed – if you speak in English you have to pay a small fine as punishment.

4. The most famous groundhog is Punxsutawney Phil, who has apparently been making predictions in Punxsutawney for over 125 years. Residents say that Phil is given a magical potion every year to give him long life.

3. The chosen groundhogs are kept in electric-heated burrows, and are said to utter their prediction in ‘groundhogese’ which is then ‘translated’ by a representative.

2. The groundhogs are looked after by the Inner Circle, which is a group of local dignitaries who are responsible for carrying out all of the Groundhog Day celebrations. They traditionally wear formal dress, including top hats, on Groundhog Day.

1. The accuracy of the groundhog predictions is a matter of dispute – some Pennsylvania residents say that the rodents are accurate up to 90% of the time, whereas some studies say they are accurate only 35% of the time.

Okay, first the movie. Not to be a noodge but if it were real Bill Murray would have been a serial killer before the second act. Think of it this way, it takes someone about 10 years to master a craft. Bill masters piano playing, ice carving and French. While director Harold Ramis claimed, on the DVD, that Murray only spent ten years in hell, you can easily see that number rise closer to 30. 30 years of dying over and over again only to reawaken to a town full of people who don’t remember anything.

Now to the rodent. You can see now how two very different holidays got glued together over time. On the one hand we have Mary, mother of Jesus, bringing her infant to the temple for her to receive the ritual purification and on the other we have a rodent who predicts the weather, badly.

I can see how they got confused.

But if you must head out to rural Pennsylvania as part of your pop culture Haj, what can you expect to do? Well, the Pittsburgh chapter of About.com has some suggestions.

Plan to arrive in Punxutawney no later than 6am in time to catch one of several shuttles providing transportation to Gobbler’s Knob (there is no parking at the Knob). Or, arrive a day or two earlier for a weekend of action-packed events including a chili cook-off, ice carving exhibitions, trivia contests, a Prognosticators Ball, groundhog day weddings, sleigh rides, woodchuck whittling, the Phil Phind Scavenger Hunt, music, food, fun and games. If you happen to be celebrating a birthday on February 2nd, then you are invited to join others who share the special day for Phil’s Birthday Celebration and a free souvenir.

Ah yes, not only are you another day older and closer to death, today you get to party with a rodent. From Mickey Mouse to Chuck E. Cheese, we do seem to be a culture that worships its rodents.

That is very weird, I hope you know.

Groundhog Day from David van Wert on Vimeo.

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