By LANA CARBON
There is an important day coming up incredibly soon that impacts each and every one of us in some way, whether we choose to celebrate it or not. Some people look forward to this day in hopes of receiving a special message from a dear loved one, while others unfortunately fear the day seeing it only as something to dread. I find that interesting, so I thought it would be an excellent opportunity to delve into the history of the day itself.
Here is the origin of that day in February that everyone knows as… Groundhog Day.
In 1723, the Lenape tribe of the native Algonquin people (known as the Delawares) settled in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, situated halfway between the Allegheny and Susguehanna Rivers. The town name comes from ponksad-uteney, which translates into the town of sand flies. The Lenape considered groundhogs to be honourable ancestors, since according to their creation beliefs their forebears began life in Mother Earth as animals, before emerging to hunt as men centuries later. Wojak in particular, was looked upon as a grandmother of the people. Her name is where we get the word woodchuck from, of course.
When the Germans arrived in the 1700’s, they brought with them the tradition of Candlemas Day, which has its origins in the pagan ritual of Imbolc, the mid-point between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox. For the Christians, the clergy would bless and hand out candles to be placed in the windows during the darkness of winter. Superstition stated that if the sun came out on this special day (February 2nd) and the weather was fair, there would be six more weeks of winter. In Germany they had used badgers or hedgehogs as the animal that would be watched to determine this fate, but in Pennsylvania a groundhog was used instead.
The first reference to a Groundhog Day came in 1841 in Morgantown, Pennsylvania. The following was found in the diary of store keeper James Morris, dated February 4th of that year:
Since its beginning, the celebration has become quite the affair. Phil now brings along his wife Phyllis and their daughter Phelicia, to see whether Spring will be coming early or not, as well as select members of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club’s Inner Circle (if you have ever seen footage of the ceremony, these are the gentlemen in tuxes and top hats), including the President who must attend so that he can translate the prediction from Groundhogese to English.
While Punxsutawney Phil is the first official and by far the most famous of the weather forecasting rodents, he is not the only one. Some of the other famous cousins include Ontario’s own Wiarton Willie, Alberta’s Balzac Billy, Quebec’s Fred la Marmotte, New York’s Staten Island Chuck, Georgia’s General Beauregard Lee and Colorado’s Flatiron Freddy, just to name a few.
I don’t know how much faith you put into the fortune-telling abilities of our four-legged friends (as of 2016, out of 129 predictions on record, Phil is currently correct 39% of the time) or if you think the whole thing is complete hogwash; what I do know is that for one day out of the whole year, people from an entire country (maybe even a whole continent) that otherwise wouldn’t have paid much attention, are invested in the small town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. That is the power of tradition… and a little Bill Murray movie probably didn’t hurt.
So on February 2nd, whether it be Phil or one of the other furry little prognosticators more local to you, take some time think about our little friends and their celebrations. Who knows, maybe this year one of them will get it right!