Despite a cold and cloudy day in a small town just northeast of Pittsburgh, the plump marmot affectionately known as Punxsutawney Phil peeked his head out from the warm quarters where he hibernates during the winter months, saw his shadow, turned around, and went back to sleep…presumably signaling another six weeks of winter. Exactly how does this particular groundhog’s aversion to heading out into the cold equate to a longer-than-usual winter? Who among us doesn’t react to a bleak and cloudy day by pulling the covers up over our heads and returning to our restful slumber for “just five more minutes?”
While many may argue the scientific accuracy of Phil’s prediction, others consider his forecast to be as accurate and reliable as the Farmer’s Almanac. Ignore the fact that, according to the calendar, Spring does not officially arrive until the vernal equinox on March 21st which is approximately six weeks from February 2. If Phil hadn’t seen his shadow (which may or may not have been caused by the lights from the many television cameras that were pointed in his direction), he would have ventured out of his warm sleeping quarters, indicating that spring would arrive sooner than its mid-March due date.
Whether you trust Phil’s calculation or the weatherman’s prediction, it begs the question, “how did we come to rely on a groundhog to determine whether the next season would arrive earlier than expected?” Just what are the origins of Groundhog Day?
After some not-so-extensive research that brought me no further than Wikipedia, here are some interesting “facts” that I have gathered about Groundhog Day and its tradition. Turning to a groundhog to predict the length of our winters is a German custom and the celebration in Pennsylvania dates back to the 18th century. It’s origins are rooted in ancient European lore in which a badger was used to predict the length of the winter. The practice is also very similar to the pagan festival of Imbolc, which is celebrated on February 2 and involves weather forecasting. The first documented American reference to Groundhog Day was found in a diary entry dated February 4, 1841, written by storekeeper James Moorris of Morgantown, Pennsylvania.
Whether we have an early Spring or cold winter days remain with us until the end of March, there are a few things we can be sure of. Spring will officially arrive on March 21; warmer days are headed our way; and the crew at Colchester Neighborhood Farm will soon be filling the greenhouses with small seedlings of organically grown fruits and vegetables in preparation for a stellar crop this summer.