There’s nothing more soul-crushing than waking up on Feb. 2 and finding out that Punxsutawney Phil saw his damn shadow. The idea of six more weeks of winter after what is always a grueling few months just makes you want to bury your head in the ground and hibernate, doesn’t it? Even if you don’t believe in the groundhog’s predictive abilities, superstition is a sneaky b*tch, crawling into your mind and making you fear the worst.
But, hold on. Who gives this Phil critter the right to tell us how our seasons are going to pan out, anyway? Does he even know what’s going on?
We rouse Phil on the second of February because it falls midway between the winter and spring solstices (not exactly, since the solstices move around every year, but close enough). The date was also celebrated in lots of ancient cultures to welcome spring. The Celts called it Imbolc, which spread to Christian Europe and became Candlemas; on Candlemas day, the clergy would pass out candles that had been blessed to get everyone through the winter. It was believed that if Candlemas fell on a sunny day, you’d get another 40 days of cold. Not the most intuitive, but whatever.
The Germans, specifically, decided that it could only be considered a sunny day if small animals (like badgers and hedgehogs) could see their shadows. So, really, they were just trying to make it that much harder to say that winter was there to stay. A lot of settlers who established Pennsylvania were German, so along came their funny traditions. They started using a groundhog, or woodchuck, as their meteorologist, since they were a lot easier to come by in their native state.
Since then, Groundhog Day has remained relatively the same since the inaugural celebration in 1887: always on Feb. 2, always at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Penn. Clymer Freas, an editor from a local newspaper, is credited with selling the idea to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club (which was made up, in part, by groundhog hunters -- just so you know).
As far as the weather, though, sunny days in the winter can mean that cold, dry air will persist. But that doesn’t mean we’re locked into six dreary weeks, either. In fact, Punxsutawney Phil is only at a success rate just shy of 40 percent, according to the National Climatic Data Center. Poor showing. His nemesis, Staten Island Chuck, is at 70 percent -- ouch.