For one day a year the town of Punxsutawney experiences a surge of crowds and tourists from all over. “Phil” becomes the Ambassador of the Animal Kingdom on February 2, or Groundhog Day. He is even treated as an international celebrity with over-sized media coverage, protocol and greeted by handlers with top-hats and felt overcoats. (See: “Do Animals Need a UN Ambassador?”)
For overseas readers and many here in North America, you may be asking WHERE and WHY?! Today is Groundhog Day, and since a tradition that began in 1887 in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, tongue-in-cheek town officials present “Phil” a groundhog and the town’s most famous citizen to the world at large. The event takes place at Gobbler’s Knob, which is in west-central Pennsylvania in an idyllic rolling hill section of the country where you might also be more likely to see a horse and buggy carrying an Amish farmer. According to folklore, if Phil emerges from his burrow and sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter. From 1887 to the present, Phil and his progeny saw their shadow 102 times, 16 times predicted an early spring, and nine years had no record.
This tradition was first celebrated by early Christians in Europe as Candlemas Day. Roman legions brought a clergy-blessing-candles ritual to the Teutons, or Germans. A Second Winter was prognosticated if a hedgehog (Phil’s precursor) cast its shadow. The Punxsutawney area coincidentally is home to many of German descent who even use only a German dialect at Phil’s annual debut.
Other cities in the United States have competed with their own groundhog. There is Staten Island’s “Chuck” who resides at the Staten Island Zoo ( have actually met his caretaker on the Staten Island Railroad carrying Chuck who resides with him over weekends.) Apparently Chuck wasn’t fond of our former mayor, Michael Bloomberg. When the Mayor presented Chuck three years ago, he took a nibble on the mayor’s finger. (Maybe Chuck was an “Occupy the Zoo” supporter and smokes.) Atlanta, Georgia also has its own groundhog named “Beauregard Lee.”
Yes, I have been to Punxsutawney. Driving home from a meeting in Chicago, I was the back-seat driver that encouraged yours truly to make a slight detour off Interstate 80 to see Phil en route for a short stop. An hour and a half later, we met Phil. What we didn’t know is that Phil and his pals reside in the Town Square Public Library. Even has his own wing.
In conclusion, Phil cast his shadow today against those hopeful of an early Spring. My hope springs eternal tonight is that the 1993 comedy film “Groundhog Day,” starring Bill Murray will air. History keeps repeating itself and this movie has become a family tradition.
By, Susan Sacirbey