February 2: Groundhogs, Pancakes, and More Lore

Will we have six more weeks of Winter? Or should we just eat pancakes?

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Punxsutawney Phil the famous groundhog. Credit: AdobeStock/xartproduction

Will we have six more weeks of Winter? Should you start booking those Spring cleanups ASAP or wait? You’ll have to see what famous furry forecaster Punxsutawney Phil has to say on this, the 138th annual Groundhog Day.

While adorable, Phil’s accuracy rating is less than impressive, at around 39% reportedly. So how did we come to trust the Pennsylvania prognosticator?

According to Pennsylvania Tourism, the story begins with Candlemas, an early Christian holiday on February 2 that marks the return of light as a symbol of protection and prosperity where candles were blessed and distributed. Celebrators of the holiday believed clear skies on Candlemas meant a longer Winter. During northern conquests, the Roman legions brought the tradition to the Germanic tribes who concluded that if the sun made an appearance on Candlemas Day, a hedgehog would cast a shadow, thus predicting six more weeks of bad weather or “Second Winter.” German immigrants then brought the tradition to Pennsylvania. But how did Punxsutawney Phil, specifically, emerge?

In 1886, a spirited group of groundhog hunters from Punxsutawney dubbed themselves “The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club.” One member was an editor of Punxsutawney’s newspaper. Using his ink, he proclaimed Punxsutawney Phil, the local groundhog, to be the one and only weather prognosticating groundhog. He issued this proclamation on Candlemas, and “Groundhog Day” was born. Phil’s fame spread, and newspapers from around the globe began to report his Gobbler’s Knob prediction. Today, you will find up to 30,000 in attendance and millions watching on television or streaming on the internet.

But while Phil may be the most famous forecaster, others are more accurate. Staten Island Chuck has an accuracy rate around 80%, according to the news site silive.com. The site further reports on other regaled rodents:

  • Woodstock Willie, based in Woodstock, IL, where the 1993 film “Groundhog Day” was shot, is credited with an approximately 50% accuracy rate. (According to ABC Chicago, Bill Murray was bitten twice during filming!)
  • Buckeye Chuck of Marion, OH, recognized as Ohio’s official groundhog since 1979, has been predicting the weather since the 1970s and boasts a commendable accuracy rate of 70%.
  • Stumptown Fil, a beaver from the Oregon Zoo, chooses between two scrolls instead of the traditional shadow approach.
  • Shubenacadie Sam resides in Shubenacadie Wildlife Park in Nova Scotia, Canada, and is the first North American prognosticator to cast his prediction on Groundhog Day. His accuracy rate is reported to be about 42%, according to The Weather Network.
Photo: AdobeStock/AlcelVision

If you choose to not take part in marmot madness on Groundhog Day, you can always mark Candlemas with the tradition of eating pancakes (or crepes), as they reportedly do in Italy and France. In France, La Chandeleur is known as Crepe Day. According to various sources, it was believed if the peasants did not make pancakes on Candlemas, the wheat harvest would be bad the following year.

Frankly, eating pancakes with a groundhog sounds like the most fun!

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