Thursday, February 2, 2012

Groundhog Day

On the morning of Groundhog Day, February 2, year after year, the entire United States and Canada has their eyes on Punxustawny, Pennsylvania and "Punxustawny Phil". Will the Groundhog see his shadow? Will winter (finally) be over? Millions of people tune in to see, sick of cold weather and ready to bring on spring time, or the dreaded "six more weeks of winter".
Groundhog Day wasn't always called Groundhog Day. Its roots lie in a much more religious holiday. Candelmas, or more commonly known as the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, is a Christian holiday stemming from scripture. According to the Gospel of Luke, Mary and Joseph took baby Jesus to the temple 40 days after his birth on December 25. On this day, according to religious law, Mary was to complete ritual purification at the temple and present her newborn son.  There, prophets foresaw what he would later become as an adult. In some denominations, Christians leave their Christmas decorations up until this day. To them, it signifies the end of the Christmas season.
But as with most religious holidays, Candelmas was given its date to coincide with an already celebrated Pagan holiday, to make conversion an easier task. Imbolc, a Celtic holiday, was celebrated on February 1, and was devoted to the goddess Brigid. Brigid was the goddess of healing, smithcraft and poetry. She was said to be associated with sacred flames, and associated with the sun and the coming of warmer days. The Celts believed that on this day, snakes or badgers could perform the same duty as we believe the groundhog performs today.
The holiday of Imbolc was melted together with the holiday of Candelmas, and February 1st became the Irish Catholic feast of Saint Brigid. Saint Brigid is the patron saint of Ireland, along with Saint Patrick and Saint Columba. Although Saint Brigid was a real person, it is believed that Brigid was not her birth name. She was named after the Pagan goddess to make the transition for converts an easier task.
Other countries formed their own traditions based upon those practiced in Ireland. In the United Kingdom, the weather on Candelmas day predicts how the rest of the winter will go. If the weather is nice, another storm can be expected, and if the weather is downcast or stormy, winter has been completed. There, it is wolves and bears, not groundhogs, that come out of hibernation to inspect the weather. It is the Germans who believed in the groundhog's prophetic abilities, and early Pennsylvania Dutch settlers brought this belief with them.   
Today, if the groundhog sees its shadow, he will run back into his hole for six more weeks of winter. But where did we get that number? After all, the first day of spring falls on March 21, nearly seven weeks after Groundhog Day. This, however, is according to the current recognized world calendar, the Gregorian calendar. Coincidently, the old Julian calendar, finally abolished by the Russians in 1918, had their equinox landing on March 16, exactly six weeks after February 2. Some historians believe that the differentiation in dates stemmed directly from the confusion during the changing of the calendar year.
There are many celebrations of Groundhog Day in both America and Canada, but the celebration in Punxustawny (pronounced Pungk-su-tawn-ee), is by far the largest, and most famous. Today's festivities seem silly and light-hearted, but don't tell that to a member of the "Inner Circle"! The “Inner Circle” is the traditional caregivers of Punxustawny Phil, and are seen every year on TV, dressed to the tines in tuxedos and top hats. According to them, since 1887 there as been only one Punxustawny Phil, and every year, Phil drinks a special "Elixer Of Life" that magically grants him seven more years to live. The president of the Inner Circle is said to be fluent in "Groundhogese", and is the only one Punxustawny Phil will give his prediction to. It is the president's responsibility to translate for Phil's adoring public.
 Punxustawny Phil does not live in Punxustawny, in fact, he lives two miles outside of town in a place called Gobbler's Knob. This home is only temporary, however. During the remainder of the year, Phil and his groundhog wife, Phyllis, live in the town library. The members of the Inner Circle take care of Phil and his wife throughout the year until it's time for Phil to make his annual prediction.
How often is Phil's predictions correct? Well, if you ask the Inner Circle, Phil is right 100% of the time, having predicted an early spring 14 times since beginning his special duties. However, a more accurate number is somewhere around 39%. This year will mark Phil's 114th prediction. If you want to see Phil's prediction in person, Gobbler's Knob is approximately 2 hours and 45 minutes away from Bloomsburg. The celebrations begin at 3 a.m. with a bonfire. The prediction will be aired on live TV at 7:25 a.m., but don't worry if you can't get up that early. Most news stations show Punxustawny throughout the day. Tune in, and enjoy a fun, lighthearted tradition.

*Writen By Lenore Sterner

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