Wednesday, February 2, 2011

That's Right Woodchuck, Chuckers- It's GROUNDHOG DAY!

By R.D. Stephens

As most of us learned in grade school, if a groundhog emerges from his winter home today and sees his shadow, he'll dive back in for another six weeks of chilly weather but if the skies are cloudy and no shadow is seen, spring is on the way!  Of course, we know that the change in the seasons has nothing to do with what a chubby rodent might say about it but just how did the humble groundhog become the face of this tradition?

Like many of the holidays that are widely celebrated in the United States and Canada, Grounghog Day was a meld of several different traditions.  The Catholic holiday of Candlemas is February 2nd which celebrates an early period in Jesus' life, St. Brigid's Day which was an ancient Gaelic holiday marking the official first day of Spring, and a Pennsylvania Dutch tradition that was first documented in the mid 1800's that referenced a groundhog as the way to tell if spring were truly on its way or not. The first official Groundhog Day was in Punxsutawney, PA 1887 using the German folktale of the groundhog and his shadow to settle whether spring began on February 2nd or on the Vernal Equinox itself.  So an ancient difference in religious sentiments over the start of Spring now rests on a giant squirrel-like animal that, according to several sources, is 'right' about 40% of the time. Hmmmmm, Punxsutawney Phil- that's not exactly a passing grade.

And what does this have to do with the night sky? Not a darn thing but maybe we should all hope for a cloudy day this once, just in case Phil does know what he's doing.

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