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COLUMN: The great guessing gift of the groundhog



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A member of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club's Inner Circle holds Phil for a picture Feb. 2 after he makes his weather prediction on Groundhog Day. Tribune News Service Buy Photos

Arguably the best national holiday just occurred. That’s right: Groundhog Day. 

Okay, maybe not actually. You have to admit, though, that Groundhog Day is one of the stranger holidays out there — a member of the club dedicated to the groundhog has the honor of raising it in the air like it's Simba at the beginning of “The Lion King” and it gets national coverage.

But where did this odd tradition come from? Why do we praise this woodchuck and look to it for weather wisdom? 

Groundhog Day stems from the Christian tradition Candlemas, where the length of winter was determined by how long candles would burn. From there, Germans began using a hedgehog to predict the weather. Once German settlers came to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, that was when we saw our faithful groundhog come into play. 

The first mention of a Groundhog Day was in 1886, but it wasn’t until 1887 that the celebration was held at the traditional Gobbler’s Knob. 

Phil, the famous Punxsutawney groundhog, is guarded by the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, whose inner circle claims that Phil is not only 100 percent accurate on his predictions lbut is also 130 years old due to a “magical life-extending serum.” To me, it sounds like the inner circle has had too much of that serum themselves. 

Then after the 1993 film “Groundhog Day” with Bill Murray, the holiday solidified itself into the minds of every viewer as a day that must be important since it had a whole movie dedicated to it. 

I can understand how Groundhog Day has been able to last in Punxsutawney — it’s a tradition dating all the way back to its original settlers — but how has it been able to stick across the country and even into Canada?

The reason is that it’s maintaining tradition. I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t ask for a more ambiguous answer.

Groundhog Day to some, myself included, is a glimmer of hope. This year, Phil gave us a healthy dose of hopefulness by granting us an early spring. After the recent Polar Vortex, you can bet your sweet bippy I’m going to take weather advice from a groundhog. 

This hope, however, is typically refuted within the first week when the temperature drops to a balmy 30 degrees as is normally found in February weather. And yet here we are, year after year, continuing to wait for a rodent to tell us the forecast. 

Maybe it’s because seasonal depression hits us hard and we need something to distract us from the bleak midwinter. Or maybe it’s because animals are innocent, and they can do no wrong, including weather-predicting. Nonetheless, Groundhog Day serves as a rite of passage for everyone who strives to power through the dreary winter months. 

In the end, as long as we have kindergarteners learning about the holiday through activities on starfall.com and dedicated club members embracing their top hats and idolizing a marmot, there’s no reason not to cover the oddity that is Groundhog Day on national news. 

And since the holiday will most likely not go anywhere, I will continue to look to Phil, as so many others do, in these trying, wintery times to get me through to spring break. 

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