Groundhog Day!

Bill Murray and Puxatony Phil from Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day brings to mind the popular Bill Murray comedy about a man trapped in a time loop that forces him to live the same day – Groundhog Day, as it turns out – over and over and over again until he becomes a better person.

Legend

But the day itself – the holiday – has an interesting meaning and history. The legend goes that if a groundhog comes out of its burrow at noon on February 2, Groundhog Day, and sees its shadow (that is, if it’s a sunny day), winter is due to continue for another 6 weeks. It is said that coming out into a cloudy day, a groundhog would stay outside and begin to forage, indicating that warmer weather is due soon.

Both Groundhog Days – the movie and the holiday – are amusing fictions in their own ways.

Custom

We’re certainly not trying to denigrate the holiday! We enjoy the pomp and circumstance of watching a master of ceremonies in a tuxedo coax a large rodent out of a hole for some weather advice.  Deny science-proven climate change all you want, but don’t you dare question a burrowing animal about the weather!  In the U.S., the expert with the overbite is Puxatony Phil of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.  In Canada, the go-to climate ‘hog is the albino Wiarton Willie of Wiarton in Bruce County, Ontario.

wiarton willie canada groundhog day

Origin

The origin of North America’s Groundhog Day seems to be Candlemas Day from Europe. There, hedgehogs were the meteorological prognosticators. North America has groundhogs, not hedgehogs, so the baton was passed. Old England once had a saying: “If Candlemas be fair and bright, Come Winter, have another flight. If Candlemas brings clouds and rain, Go Winter, and come not again.”

Purpose

Why was it even important what a small animal indicated about the coming spring weather? Well, farmers needed a reliable sign as to when it would be safe to plant their next crops. Plant too soon and the crops may be destroyed by a late frost. Plant too late and harvest would be delayed. Farming was – and is – a major aspect of commerce.

punxsutawney phil groundhog day

Accuracy

The accuracy of the legend used to be suspect, falling in the realm of old wive’s tales and superstition. But with today’s sophisticated weather tracking science and scrupulously kept records, we have a much better idea of what to expect in the 6 weeks following February 2nd.

The verdict? Eh, not so good. Statistics show that the rodents tend to get it right only about 37% of the time. Pure chance would be only 33%, so flipping a coin would be just as effective as the Groundhog Day song and dance. But what should we really expect from the little critters?

Still, it’s a fun tradition. Much more exciting than flipping a coin.

Happy Groundhog Day!

Tweet: Groundhog Day is upon us! What does it mean? Check out some fun facts about the tradition right here!

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