Monday, February 4, 2013

Groundhog Day: an American tradition

On February 2nd, a curious ceremony takes place in several American States: a group of men dressed in tuxedos and wearing tall hats go to a groundhog’s den and wake him from his hibernation. As the poor creature gets out of his burrow, the men watch his behaviour. Two things can happen:  If he gets frightened by his shadow and he goes back to the protection of his lair, that means that there will be still several more weeks of cold winter weather. However, if he decides to stay, the forecast is that spring will come early.
Groundhog Day
The most famous groundhog in America is Punxsutawney Phil, from Gobblers Knob, Pennsylvania. According to his followers, Phil is the true and only weather forecasting groundhog, and the others are just impostors. They also sustain that there has only been one Phil and that he goes on living thanks to some secret recipe punch that he drinks during the summer: just a sip gives him seven more years’ life. Of course, this must be taken with a pinch of salt, as it is known that a groundhog lives only for seven or eight years.

This tradition of weather forecasting was introduced in America by German immigrants, who in their homeland used to watch the behaviour of hedgehogs on Candlemas for their predictions. They also had some proverbs about the weather:
“If Candlemas is mild and pure,
Winter will be long for sure.”
“If Candlemas brings
wind and snow,
Then spring will very soon show.
But if it's clear and bright,
Then spring won't come so right.”

For the translation of these proverbs see this page.

But why was the religious festivity of Candlemas chosen as the day of the prediction? Candlemas was celebrated on February 2nd, which is right in the middle of the winter, between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, and thus it is the right time to make a guess whether the long-awaited spring is near.

Unfortunately, our little friend Phil is not very reliable, as only about 40% of his predictions turn out to be true. Anyway, each year this tradition draws thousands of people to the home of this cute rodent and puts a warm smile upon our faces in the long dreary winter.

In the following video we can learn a bit more about the habits of these animals (also called woodchucks) that are related to squirrels. Then you can answer the questions below. Happy Groundhog’s Day!

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