Every year on February 2nd Americans become obsessed about a small, furry hibernating creature. The Groundhog is a national legend, and the star of a Groundhog Day tradition that dates back many centuries. The annual legendary event also featured in a Hollywood movie, and the stage play is now destined for Broadway.
Why Is February 2nd Important?
In ancient times the sun played a vastly important role and was worshipped. Not only did the sun help crops to grow and flourish, but it also highlighted the on-coming changes of the seasons. During the equinoxes (in March and September) the days have equal amounts of day and night. The cross-quarter day of February 2nd is halfway between the winter solstice and spring equinox.
At the start of February Celtic and Druid traditions celebrate the holiday of Imbolc, which marks the beginning of spring. The word ‘Imbolc’ roughly translates as “in the belly” and referred to the pregnant sheep that would be getting ready to birth spring lambs.
What Is The Significance Of The Groundhog?
The traditional Gaelic festival of Imbolc is closely associated with St Brigid, who was considered to be a pagan goddess. By the time of the holiday, at the start of February, food sources had grown scarce and people worried about whether or not they would have enough to last until the arrival of spring. The people would look everywhere for seasonal clues and omens that would help them to predict a favourable change in the weather. It is therefore believed that a day of foul weather, on February 2nd, means that winter is almost over. Some cultures relied on serpents emerging from the ground, or hedgehogs from their underground burrows, to predict the forecast. In more recent times the groundhog, otherwise known as the woodchunk, has become the favoured predictor.
Groundhogs are rodents that have a feast or famine lifestyle. These creatures gorge themselves during the summer and hibernate in the winter. The popular American custom of Groundhog Day dictates that if a groundhog sees its shadow on February 2nd he’ll retreat back inside his den because six more weeks of winter are to be expected.
How Often Is The Groundhog’s Prediction Correct?
According to statistics, Punxsutawney Phil Sowerby (as the succession of groundhogs are affectionately known) gets the weather forecast right only about 39% of the time. Nevertheless, the people of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania annually get together to celebrate the legendary event with a festival of food and music.
Who Is Rufus?
There are no groundhogs to be found in the western United States. To overcome this, a type of mountain beaver, lovingly named Rufus, is in charge of casting the prediction. Like the famous Punxsutawney Phil, Rufus is a rodent. However, instead of living underground Rufus prefers to burrow in the sandy hillsides along Puget Sound, and the waterways that stretch between Western Washington, Western Oregon and Southern British Columbia. His seasonal prediction is shown on Q13 News, from the Discovery Park Environmental Learning Centre.