Posted by: Staff | 03.08.2010

The Shadow of Punxsutawney

LILY BROOKS ’12

On February 2, 2010 several hundred people gathered at Gobbler’s Knoll in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania while millions of other watched and listened to Punxsutawney Phil’s verdict for the rest of winter. The outcome was that there will be another six more weeks of winter. Many of you may be wondering, where did the origin of Groundhog Day begin? In the 1800s, Pennsylvania’s earliest settlers from Germany brought over their holiday, “Candlemas Day”. This holiday is celebrated on the second of February just as Groundhog Day by Germans and many other European countries such as Britain, where it is known as the Festival of Candles. It is celebrated as the the halfway point of winter. If the sun showed that day, then there would be an earlier spring and if it did not, winter would still be upon them for another six weeks.

Many years later, this tradition was adopted into Groundhog Day. The Germans noticed that the groundhog was the most intelligent animal to carry on the tradition of Candlemas Day. Punxsutawney Phil appeared for his first celebration in the 1800s, although he did not stay in the same place for long because the settlers moved him to what is now called Gobbler’s Knob. The official trip was February 2, 1887. Now, many of you may be wondering where Punxsutawney got his name. Many say he was named after King Phillip of Britain, and other than being called Phillip, he was known as Br’er Groundhog. As for the name Punxsutawney, that is the town in Pennsylvania where this tradition has taken place for a least one hundred and twenty-three years.

The legend goes that if Punxsutawney Phil comes up from his burrow and sees his shadow, then there will be six more weeks of winter and if he does not, then there will be an early spring. People are curious to know who are the men with the top hats. These are the backstage members of the up-keeping of this tradition that are referred to as the “Inner Circle”. Without the “Inner Circle”, Groundhog Day would not be around today. The president of the “Inner Circle” is Bill Deely. He is in charge of organizing all the activities for Groundhog Day. The “Inner Circle” also helps with the care and handling of Puxsutawney Phil. His diet consists of a large quantity of greens, vegetables. Groundhogs are one of few animals that hibernate all year long. For them, hibernation is more like a deep coma. They barely breathe and their body temperature decreases to just a few degrees above freezing.

Even though Phil is twenty pounds and twenty-two inches long, he is not just big for his size; he has also made it big in the public eye since 1887. Groundhog Day has turned into a national and even worldwide holiday. Throughout the years, Puxsutawney Phil has made many appearances including meeting President Ronald Reagan in 1986. He appeared in the popular movie Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray as well. A few years after the movie was released, record numbers of people in the range of 30,000 came to visit Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney Pennsylvania. In 2001, Phil’s prediction was shown on the JumboTron at Times Square in New York City. Throughout the year Puxsutawney holds activities, including ice carvings and picnics to get people into the mood for February 2nd.

This year, Punxsutawney Phil was pulled out of Gobbler’s Knob in front of many attentive eyes and made his declaration that there would be six more weeks of winter. In my opinion, I am upset about this decision, I think that winter should be over, even though I am an New Englander and cold weather is in my blood I am ready to see the flowers bloom and to start the season of spring.

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