According to legend, the large ground squirrel possesses mysterious, prognosticating abilities. If the rodent sees his shadow, then he will retreat into his burrow in fear. Another six weeks of winter will follow. If cloudy weather prevents the furred forecaster from seeing his shadow, then he will leave his lair, signifying the advent of spring.
Historians debate the origin of the holiday. Groundhog Day may have roots in ancient, pagan festivals of Europe; however, it originated as a Pennsylvania German custom in North America. In southeastern Pennsylvania (where there is apparently not a whole lot to do), people widely and wildly celebrate February 2.
Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania hosts the most renowned Groundhog observance in America. The resident rodent known as “Punxsutawney Phil” presides over the affair. Over 40,000 pilgrims gather for the annual festivities.
An elite group of city leaders known as “The Inner Circle” appear in tuxedos and top hats. At the appointed hour, they lift the groundhog high in the air. With high drama, the leader listens carefully to Phil’s observations. Then he announces the results to the cheering crowds. (This confirms the earlier, editorial comment that there’s not a whole lot to do in southeastern Pennsylvania.)
Not to be outdone, Atlanta boasts its own version of Punxsutawney Phil. General Beauregard Lee resides at the Yellow River Game Ranch in Lilburn, Georgia. The learned, distant-cousin-of-a rat has received two—count them, TWO—honorary doctoral degrees from local institutions. The University of Georgia awarded him a “DWP: Doctor of Weather Prognostication.” Not to be outdone, Georgia State University honored the General with a “Doctor of Southern Groundology.”
Authorities in such matters disagree about the accuracy of Groundhog Day’s prognostications. Rodent supporters claim that groundhogs claim a 75% to 90% accuracy degree—far exceeding the success rate of their television weather-forecasting colleagues. The folk at the Yellow River Game Ranch assert that General Lee boasts an astonishing 94% success rate.
The National Climatic Data Center, however, reports a more down-to-earth average of 39% accuracy for groundhogs nationwide. One prosaic scientist laconically observed that regardless of a groundhog’s prediction, Spring ALWAYS officially arrives on March 20 or 21—about six weeks after Groundhog’s Day.
Bill Murray starred in a 1993 movie entitled Groundhog Day. He played an egocentric weather reporter named Phil Connors. His producer assigned the weatherman to cover the dreaded Groundhog Day’s doings in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.
Inexplicably, Connors finds himself repeating the same day over and over again. After a series of misdeeds and misadventures, Phil recognizes that fate has granted him the opportunity to change his life. The movie ends when he . . . well, you need to watch it for yourself!
Traditionally, January 1st inspires people to make New Year’s resolutions. However, many of us need a second chance at a second chance. If 01-01 didn’t work for you, then try 02-02. Regardless of sunshine or shadows, it’s never too early or too late to claim God’s power to start anew.