February 2nd is Groundhog Day and as the legend has it, we’re supposed to find out if we’re going to have six more weeks of winter, or if spring is right around the corner.
Despite all of the fantastic scientific methods man uses to forecast the weather, Groundhog Day always comes down to a chunky little rodent named Punxsutawney Phil, supposedly named after King Phillip.
You can watch the festivities live starting around 6 a.m. EST. He’s supposed to appear at 7:25 a.m. EST. If he doesn’t see his shadow, break out the Coppertone. If he does—break out the rock salt for the driveway. What are some more details about this rather quirky event?
That’s where it all goes down. A small Pennsylvania town of under 6,000 people, located 84 miles northeast of Pittsburgh. If Punxsutawney sounds like it’s of Indian origin, that’s because it is. The name Punxsutawney apparently derives from a Native name in Unami (a Lenape language): Punkwsutènay, which translates to “town of the sandflies” or “town of the mosquitoes.” You have to admit, “Groundhog Day” is a better way for the local chamber of commerce to market the town, instead of “Mosquito Capitol of Pennsylvania.”
Groundhogs are a type of rodent known as a marmot, and marmots are related to squirrels. Groundhog.org says “the average groundhog is 20 inches long and normally weighs from 12 to 15 pounds. Punxsutawney Phil weighs about 20 pounds and is 22 inches long. A groundhog’s life span is normally six to eight years. Phil receives a drink of a magical punch every summer during the Annual Groundhog Picnic, which gives him seven more years of life.” Magical punch? Can humans get in on this deal? When Phil wakes up from his deep sleep, it really is a deep sleep. The site says it’s more like a “deep coma, where the body temperature drops to a few degrees above freezing, the heart barely beats, the blood scarcely flows, and breathing nearly stops.” So if Phil looks grumpy when they haul him out of his burrow by the scruff of his neck, he probably is! Here’s how it went one year ago:
Yep. There are a lot of aliases for the regular groundhog. How about “whistle pig, chuck, wood-shock, ground pig, whistler, thick wood badger, Canada marmot, monax, moonack, weenusk, and red monk?” National Geographic says “woodchuck” is “a corruption of the Native American words wejack, woodshaw, or woodchoock. It may have its roots in the Algonquian (or perhaps Narragansett) name for the animal: wuchak.” Again, Groundhog Day looks better in headlines than, say, “Red Monk Day.” It’s interesting then, that groundhogs are connected to an endangered language.
And no, a woodchuck cannot chuck wood.
The official Groundhog Day website says there is a connection between this event and one known as Candlemas, or Candlemas Day. Dictionary.com says “Candlemas is in honor of the presentation of the infant Jesus in the Temple and the purification of the Virgin Mary: candles are blessed on this day.” The official Groundhog site mentions this old English song:
If Candlemas be fair and bright, Come, Winter, have another flight; If Candlemas brings clouds and rain, Go Winter, and come not again.
A Scottish couplet:
If Candlemas Day is bright and clear, There’ll be twa (two) winters in the year.
And another Scottish rhyme:
If Candlemas day be dry and fair, The half o’ winter to come and mair, If Candlemas day be wet and foul, The half of winter’s gone at Yule.
While Groundhog Day doesn’t have the Hallmark lifestyle oomph of, say, Valentine’s Day or St. Patrick’s, it’s still a fun mini-holiday to enjoy. And of course, we can’t have a story about Groundhog Day without a little Bill Murray. AMC is running the movie (over and over and over) today.
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