What Is Groundhog Day, Exactly?
Can’t you just feel the excitement in the air? February 2nd is Groundhog Day, guys!
In French, they call it Jour de la Marmotte. In Spanish, they call it Dia de los Hoglips. In German, it is known as GROUNDEN STAB MURDER DAG! Probably. That French one is actually true, though.
At any rate, Groundhog Day is the thrilling day when… a… a rodent from the sciuridae family of marmots, um, apparently acts as a… meteorologist based, well, on its own… shadow sighting.
Yeah, that’s the actual premise of Groundhog Day.
According to tradition, if on the appointed auspicious date, the eponymous rodent emerges from his (or her) burrow to find a cloudy sky above, springtime weather will come early that year. If the little weasel–er–rodent comes out on a sunny February 2nd and sees his/her shadow upon the ground, we’re all relegated to six more weeks of winter weather. (Of course, spring officially starts on March 20th anyway, which, as it happens is only a few days more than six weeks, so this whole thing is toothless from the get-go.)
We’ll try not to editorialize too much here, and instead we’ll just lay out the facts. The American celebration of Groundhog Day was (likely) co-opted from a traditional German holiday, the first mentions of which date to the mid-19th Century. By the year 1887, the holiday had gained sufficient traction to be officially recognized by the American government. The epicenter of the Groundhog Day festivities was then and remains to this day the town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.
For nearly 130 years, a group of Punxsutawney locals called the Groundhog Club have helped their town’s most famous resident, a groundhog named Punxsutawney Phil, preside over the annual winter prognostication. And for the record, yes, there have been many Phils. Likely between 25-30, in fact based on the average lifespan of these rodents.
Many towns across the Americas hold their own Groundhog Day celebrations, with little critters sporting names like Manitoba Merv (Winnipeg, Manitoba) and Buckeye Chuck (Mario, Ohio) and Jimmy the Groundhog (Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, and might I take a moment here to say well done, Sun Prairie, you really went above and beyond with your name choice there), but purists will tell you that Punxsutawney Phil is the only real deal when it comes to rodent-related forecasting. According to the Groundhog Club’s estimates, Phil is accurate in his predictions about 82% of the time. According to an independent and non-biased review of 40 years of prediction data, the little fellah is actually correct about… 37% of the time.
So yes, Groundhog Day is kind of a silly phenomenon. BUT… without it, we would never have had the classic Bill Murray 1993 comedy Groundhog Day, which is simply a damn good film. Its got laughs, love, and Bill Murray kidnapping Punxsutawney Phil! Everyone thinks they’ve seen it, or says they have, but lots of you? You’ve never actually seen it, have you? Knowing the premise is not enough, bro.
Seriously, if you’ve never seen Groundhog Day, use this as your excuse to do it and stop living the lie you’ve saddled yourself with for all these years.