Six More Weeks of Hype

There’s been much hype these past few days about the bad weather coming our way. In fact, schools were closed yesterday even though we can’t really figure out why. Sure there was some snow in the morning but no where near enough to justify the cancellation. Granted, I think they were expecting the freezing rain to come in the afternoon and make a mess of the roads so it was more of a precautionary measure. And the rain did come but by the time it arrived it was already later in the afternoon, early evening. Today its mostly windy, low 40s with some snow expected to come this evening.

While we can’t always rely on modern technology’s ability to accurately forecast the weather there is always our old fashioned furry friend the groundhog who – to no real surprise – has predicted six more weeks of winter*.  Sounds like bad news but if the little creature’s prediction is anything like the hype of the bad weather coming our way we should be just fine.

*Correction – I received the wrong info this morning and just realized that we’re in for an early spring. Whatever, it can go either way. I’ll have to report back to confirm the prediction.

The following piece is taken from The Morning Call, in Allentown PA [here]

Q: Feb. 2 is Groundhog Day. How did the holiday begin?

A: Poor Groundhog Day. In the pantheon of American holidays, Feb. 2 is always getting pushed around by the bigger bullies: Christmas with its presents, Halloween with its costumes, Thanksgiving with its turkey.

Heck, even Presidents Day ranks higher — federal workers get the day off, after all. What do you get on Groundhog Day — six more weeks of winter?

But the marmot merriment does have one thing: a rich, if quirky, history.

The historians down at Punxsutawney, Pa. — groundhog central, if you haven’t heard — trace the holiday’s origins back to a bizarre intersection between European weather lore and Candlemas, a traditional Christian holiday during which the clergy would distribute candles.

Quoting an old Scottish couplet, the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club makes the Candlemas connection clear: “If Candlemas Day is bright and clear/There’ll be two more winters in the year.”

The Romans brought the tradition north to present-day Germany, whose hedgehog-loving folk figured if the sun shone bright, who else but the wily marmot would be the first to notice? German settlers brought the tradition to America, christening the groundhog as the prognosticator of prognosticators.

Punxsutawney made Groundhog Day its own in the late 19th century, when newspaper editor Clymer Freas reportedly pitched a local celebration during, ironically, a picnic featuring grilled groundhog.

Phil’s first mention in the press? From the Punxsutawney Spirit, circa 1886: “Today is groundhog day, and up to the time of going to press the beast has not seen his shadow.”

The next year, the celebration moved to its traditional site at Gobbler’s Knob, a clearing in the hills above Punxsutawney, now decked out with groundhog memorabilia and room for satellite television vans. Every year, the top-hatted members of the Punxsutawney Inner Circle hoist Phil from a fake stump, speak to him in Groundhogese and relay his prediction to the waiting crowd.

(He spends the rest of the year in a cage at the local library, allegedly sustained by a drop of magical groundhog punch every year.)

But the story doesn’t end there. In the early 1930s, German-American groups seeking to preserve their heritage debuted the now-ubiquitous grundsau, or groundhog, lodges — men-only social clubs that have attracted a good deal of rumors.

Most of them are true, says Zach Langley, director of education at the Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center at Kutztown University.

Yes, members do speak the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect during meetings, he said. Yes, they do make a pledge to the groundhog.

And yes, one lodge does have an 8-foot groundhog — that talks. (Thanks to a speaker system, not a mystical groundhog god.)

“As part of the whole program, the groundhog gives a forecast for the year,” he said. “The groundhog kind of holds this symbolic center — it’s almost like an idol.”

— Andrew McGill, The Morning Call


2 thoughts on “Six More Weeks of Hype

  1. That was a great article. I used to live in Allentown and delivered The Morning Call with my husband when we took over our son’s newspaper route. And I’m a graduate of Kutztown University. That Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center puts on a great fair every year. And the weather in Eastern Pa today is snowy and icy – the roads are treacherous.

  2. OK, I literally just posted this, looked outside and there’s snow everywhere. I think it’d be better if I kept silent about the weather on this blog. It seems to do much better without my criticism.

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