GTPulse: Groundhog Day…Again

There are few movies that cast a bigger shadow than the 1993 Bill Murray classic “Groundhog Day.”

Every year, around Feb. 2, I cue it up to bask in the glow a movie that is as close to perfect as it gets.  At first, it was all about the jokes and riffing around the gimmick of the Punxsutawney Groundhog that made me smile. But, true to form, consecutive viewings of the movie led me to appreciate the film for more than the laughs.Punxsutawney Phil

The movie, “Groundhog Day,” has sparked conversations about reincarnation, purgatory, time travel and self-improvement. It has been embraced by religious leaders of many creeds, each seeing reflections of their own belief systems presented to the masses in a relatable and approachable way.

Film critics adore it. Directors find themselves obsessed with it—and actually envious of Harold Ramis for creating a seemingly effortless work of genius.

Scientists, Redditor’s and writers have speculated for years about the actual amount of time Murray’s character, Phil Connors, spent in the time loop (the answer is somewhere between 9 and 10,000 years, by the way), but astonishingly, a movie about Groundhog Day has little to do with the national observance itself.

So, we decided to dive in to the tradition of a marmot meteorologist.

Christian Beginnings
Groundhog Day is rooted in the tradition of Candlemas, an annual Christian holiday commemorating 40 days after the birth of Christ. In obedience of Jewish law, mothers went to the Temple in Jerusalem to be purified after birth and to present their firstborn children to God. As the tradition spread across the world, clergy would use Candlemas to give away candles needed for winter. The amount of candles offered indicated how long winter would continue.

German Grown
Expanding on the Candlemas tradition, Germans coined the idea of selecting a hedgehog to predict the weather, and German immigrants brought that tradition with them as they settled in America in the 1940s. Of course, hedgehogs are not native to America, so the Germans settled for a Groundhog.

“Wenn der Igel Lichtmess seinen Schatten sieht, so Kriecht er wieder auf sechs Wochen ins Loch.”

“If the hedgehog sees his shadow at Candlemas, He will crawl back into his hole for another six weeks.

A Great Idea
It was actually a newspaper editor by the name of Clymer Freas who started the tradition of the Punxsutawney Groundhog festival. Freas presented the idea to a group of local businessmen who happened to be members of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Hunting Club, and the men were on board. The Groundhog hunters made the first trek to Gobbler’s Knob on February 2nd, 1887 to look for the groundhog’s shadow. The annual tradition has grown in Punxsutawney as members of the top hat wearing “inner circle” manage the festivities, speaking to the hog directly in the rodent’s native language—‘groundhogese.”General Lee Groundhog

Beyond Pennsylvania
Michigans Woody The WoodchuckPunxsutawney Phil isn’t the only rodent on the block. Shubencadie Sam, who lives in Shubencadie Provincial Wildlife Park in Canada, is coaxed out of his hollow-log home each year by a bagpiper looking for a forecast. Georgia looks to General Beauregard Lee, a groundhog with two honorary doctoral degrees, for their weather forecast. Beau lives inside a miniature southern mansion on the Yellow River Game Ranch. His mansion even has a satellite dish so he can watch himself predict the weather each year on local TV.

Another Canadian groundhog, Wiarton Willie, has built a following and helped tourism in the tiny town of Wiarton, Ontario. The three day festival  began in 1956 and celebrates Willie—an albino groundhog—with a pageant, sports and rock concerts. Staten Island Charles G. Hogg, or, “Chuck,” began his predictions at the Staten Island Zoo and is a rival to Punxsutawney Phil. Chuck actually bit New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2009 during the Groundhog Day event. Chuck lives in his own cabin at the zoo, and despite his history of biting, the mayor hoists his out of that cabin every year to get the forecast.

Here in Michigan, we have Woody the Woodchuck—Michigan’s weather prognosticator—who can be seen emerging from his stylish sing-story house each year in Howell, Michigan.

Fun Fact: Groundhog’s are also called Woodchuck’s and are Michigan’s third largest rodents.

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