Punxsutawney Phil is dead and everything else you need to know about Groundhog Day

Monday, February 7, 2022

How about a Wabbit?
Photo by Wayne Pridemore
CORRECTION: Punxsutawney Phil is alive and well! 

The groundhog that died was the New Jersey version, known as Milltown Mel. No one knows when he slumbered off, but it was during his hibernation phase. 

Surviving groundhogs (all marmots too) are Staten Island Chuck and Dunkirk Dave, as well as Buckeye Chuck in Ohio. RIP!

Martin Král says:

"No other animal has been found there to be as accurate in predicting the next 6 weeks. 
"So it's up to all of you to find a rodent that will step in as replacement. 
"May I suggest a squirrel, a rabbit, or a badger (not a rodent, but more authentic)?

"My timely article offers alternative celebrations. 
"Burn some candles  -  some for warding off illness, some against house fire (!), and one black one to protect during lightning storms. Pass it on!"

By Martin Král

Ever wonder where February got its name? No, it was not from the Roman goddess Februus; that came later. The word February comes from the Roman festival of purification called Februa, during which people were ritually washed. 

February 2 also was an important day, because it came 40 days after Jesus’ birth, and when new mothers were considered clean enough to visit the Jewish temple to present their offspring for a blessing.

In Austria and Germany that day noted the start of the agrarian year and gave hired farm hands a chance to change jobs. The Catholic Church adopted this as Maria Lichtmeß (Candlemas); by custom symbolic candles were taken to church to be blessed. These would then be briefly lit at home before being stored away.

The link of lighted candle and the change to brighter days brought special meaning to seasonal change in the countryside:

"Wenn's an Lichtmeß stürmt und schneit, ist der Frühling nicht mehr weit. Ist es aber klar und hell, kommt der Lenz noch nicht so schnell."
(Transl: “If on Candlemas it’s stormy and snows, then spring is not far. If the day is clear and bright, spring takes its time to come.”)

This — and a number of other proverbs and farmers’ wisdom — have given February 2 special note for weather predictions. Add to that the observation that hibernating animals, like the badger, were once again coming out of their lairs. As the proverb goes:

“Sonnt sich der Dachs in der Lichtmeßwoche, so geht er auf vier Wochen wieder zu Loche". (Transl: If the badger enjoys the sun during Candlemas week, then he goes back into the cave for four weeks.”)

When German immigrants came to America, these traditional sayings were followed, particularly in Pennsylvania Dutch country. The badger (Dachs in German) was known there as Grunddaks or Grundsau, and so soon became Groundhog. 

Badgers being scarce there, a marmot squeaked into place as the new weather prophet, and Groundhog Day was celebrated not only in Pennsylvania but wherever these immigrant settlements chose to maintain traditions.

The German connection to Groundhog Day these days is a fuzzy one. Anti-German sentiments among Americans during the past century obscured its origins, and those rural customs of yore have joined the Farmer’s Almanac in the proverbial dustbin of antiquarian collections. 

The annual rite of dragging Punxsutawney Phil out of his subterranean domicile has become a national TV spectacle that few consider authoritative prophesy. In fact, Phil is accurate only about 35% of the time, primarily because what someone rates as an early spring is open to much personal interpretation.

Your guess is as good as mine, you’ll now say. We can rely on very accurate weather maps these day and follow the regular interpretations of climatic changes by meteorologists. But wipe out all that technological stuff and you are left with - Nature’s clues, the calendar, and some timely proverbs!

Updated: Phil says the report of his death was premature


Mike Dee February 7, 2022 at 3:53 PM  

Punxsutawney Phil Is still alive, I believe.
Milltown Mel of Milltown, N.J., died before Groundhog’s Day.

Gretchen Bennett February 8, 2022 at 12:54 PM  

Lieber Martin!
Hast Du den besten Dank fuer Deinen Aufsatz zur Lichtmess.
Mit vielen Gruessen,

Anonymous,  June 14, 2022 at 7:49 PM  

Great history of this popular event. Now we know!

Anonymous,  February 2, 2023 at 12:52 PM  

You fool, Phil has risen again

Anonymous,  February 10, 2023 at 11:00 AM  

so good im sad

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