Perhaps one of the integral aspects of growing crops is attempting to predict weather patterns. Prior to satellites and Doppler radar, man had to depend on the elements to determine the best times to plant and to harvest. Alternatively, one could rely on a marmot.
When the Germans arrived to the United States, they brought with them many of their traditions. One such tradition coincided with a long held religious event - Candlemas Day. The earliest known American reference to Groundhog Day can be found at the Historical Society of Berks County in Reading, Pennsylvania. The reference was made Feb. 4, 1841 in Morgantown, Berks County, Pennsylvania storekeeper James Morris' diary: "Last Tuesday, the 2nd, was Candlemas day, the day on which, according to the Germans, the Groundhog peeps out of his winter quarters and if he sees his shadow he pops back for another six weeks nap, but if the day be cloudy he remains out, as the weather is to be moderate." (from Wikipedia)
This is a Scottish poem about Candlemas Day:
As the light grows longer
The cold grows stronger
If Candlemas be fair and bright
Winter will have another flight
If Candlemas be cloud and snow
Winter will be gone and not come again
A farmer should on Candlemas day
Have half his corn and half his hay
On Candlemas day if thorns hang a drop
You can be sure of a good pea crop
So, it seems the origins of Groundhog Day reflects upon the traditions of trying to predict the weather and has subsequently become a way for many of us today to begin looking forward to warmer days. Today, in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, Groundhog Day has become a full on celebration with groundhog Punxsutawney Phil being the star attraction. Thousands of people brave the elements to descend upon the town and take part in the massive celebrations.
As a child, I loved Groundhog Day. I had no idea why there was such a day as Groundhog Day and it did not matter. I took the legend of the groundhog seeing or not seeing his shadow seriously. Like anyone at this time of year, I looked forward to spring and was growing weary of winter. I recall asking my parents if the groundhog saw his shadow or not. If he did, I was convinced the winter would last another month and a half. On the other hand, if he did not, I actually counted the days until spring would arrive.
I did not realize there was only one prognosticator of prognosticators and that he actually lived in a small Western town in Pennsylvania until the movie Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell was released. The movie captured our hearts and put Punxsutawney on the map. Since seeing it, I dream of the day when I can make the pilgrimage to this town and be a part of the festivities first hand. Wouldn't it be great if, after taking part in the celebration, I got stuck in the same town and had to live the same day over and over again?
Because of the movie, Groundhog Day has taken on a new meaning. It can now be used as a term to define the day in, day out, same old, same old feelings we feel when it seems the same day tends to repeat itself over and over again. We wake up, have breakfast, commute, work, commute again, do household chores, have dinner, watch television and go to bed. This can make a person feel a lot like Bill Murray felt when he dreaded waking up each day. If we dig a little deeper into the film, we realize there are choices. We can limit ourselves to doing what we have always done or perhaps break the monotony and try something different. It really is up to us.
Let me leave you with this. Today is a fun day. It is a day when we can start thinking of spring. It really is not that far away now. Perhaps outside you have crocuses emerging or maybe even some early daffodils. Depending on where you are, some songbirds may be arriving soon. It is a day of hope and renewal. Enjoy it! Oh, and just for the fun of it, watch the film. It is always worth a laugh or two.
All images are from Wikimedia Commons. The tagline of this article is a quote from the movie Groundhog Day. Thank you for reading!
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on February 2, 2009. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)