Groundhog Day

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• Who is Punxsutawney Phil?

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Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, is the home of Punxsutawney Phil, the most famous of the furry weather forecasters who amble forth from their holes every February 2 to predict just how much more winter is in store for the shivering folks of the United States.

This tiny town is not so much hustle and bustle the rest of the year; but in early February and in the few months leading up to that time, Punxsutawney resembles a metropolis. And on February 2, affectionately named Groundhog Day, leaders of the community gather on Gobbler's Knob to consult with Phil, who crawls out of his hole (or sometimes has to be dragged out), who either sees his shadow or he doesn't, depending on what the community leaders "understand" Phil to say.

As the tradition goes, if Phil sees his shadow, that means that winter is still hanging around, for another six weeks; if Phil doesn't see his shadow, the legend says, why then spring is just around the corner.

No one is for sure just when this tradition began. It is first mentioned in the 18th Century by the Pennsylvania Dutch, possibly in conjunction with the celebration of Candlemas, which occurred halfway between the first day of winter and the first day of spring. And although the dates are not the same, the belief that the weather on Candlemas determined how soon spring would come was translated to the groundhog, or woodchuck, who was a hibernating animal who usually chose early February to end his hibernation, at least temporarily.Nowadays, it doesn't matter what Phil "says" or whether he is even right. It's all an excuse to get together and celebrate a "holiday" and exposure for the small, otherwise ordinary town of Punxsutawney.

Other towns across the U.S. have their own groundhog prognosticators. One of the most famous is General Beauregard Lee, who lives in Atlanta. Even Canada has a weather groundhog, Wiarton Willy.

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David White