|Punxsutawney Phil from Gobbler's Knob.|
Image courtesy of Groundhog Org.
Today is Groundhog Day. It is customary in the U.S. to wait for and watch a groundhog poke its head out of its burrow to check out the weather. If he sees his shadow, then we can expect six more weeks of winter. If not, then we will have an early spring.
The groundhog is not a hog. It's formal name is Marmota Monax, and it is a rodent of the family Sciuridae, basically just a large ground squirrel. It is also known as a marmot or a woodchuck. Woodchucks do not chuck wood, despite the tongue-twister. Since they burrow, they don't have anything to do with trees.
|The groundhog is a rodent belonging to the family of large ground squirrels.|
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
"Woodchuck" is a word we borrowed from the Algonquian language, "wuchak", along with chipmunk, raccoon, opossom, moose, caribou, and squash. Various tribes of the north and east parts of the U.S. spoke dialects of Algonquian, including the Blackfoot, Cheyenne, Mohican, Powhatan, and Ojibwa, among others.
The U.S. custom began with the Pennsylvania Germans in the 18th and 19th centuries. The largest Groundhog Day celebration is held in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, about 84 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, where it has been celebrated since about 1886. In Alaska the holiday is called Marmot Day, a holiday created by a bill in the Alaska legislature that was signed in 2009 by then-Governor Sarah Palin.
|Punxsutawney Phil giving his prognosis.|
Photo by Gene J. Puskar, AP
Some European countries have similar customs, such as Serbia. On February 15 Sretenje is celebrated. On this day a bear will wake up, and if it sees its own shadow it will get scared and go back to sleep, which means a longer winter. If it doesn't then winter is almost over.
In England, Candlemas is celebrated either February 2nd, or the Sunday between January 28th and February 3rd. If bears or wolves emerge to inspect the weather and return to their dens and lairs, there will be at least another 40 days of severe weather. Italy has the same custom called Candelora.
Imbolc, or St. Brigid's Day is an ancient Celtic festival marking the beginning of spring. It is commonly celebrated on February 1st or 2nd. It is traditionally a time of weather prognostication, and there is an old tradition of waiting to see if badgers come out of their winter dens. It is also the day the Cailleach, or hag, gathers firewood for the remaining winter. If she intends to make the winter last longer, she will cause the weather to be sunny and bright so she can collect plenty of firewood.
No celebration of Groundhog Day would be complete without a clip from the eponymous movie. And so, without further ado, here is Bill Murray as Phil Connors....