The legend of Punxsutawney Phil


Randy Riley - Contributing Columnist



Well, it happened again this morning.

Early today on Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, a usually shy, otherwise normal-looking groundhog named Phil was pulled from his den.

Phil had been hibernating all winter. Hibernation is not just a heavy sleep. It’s more like being in a deep, deep coma; body temperature drops, the heart is barely beating, breathing almost stops. Phil was just coming out of this near-death state when he was grabbed and pulled from his cozy den.

Groundhogs have been known to whistle when they are frightened or alarmed. I would imagine that Phil might have whistled a little this morning as the President of the Groundhog Club pulled him from the darkness of his wintery den to face the thousands of fans who were awaiting his meteorological prognostication (his weather prediction). This unusual method of weather prediction did not always involve a groundhog.

In the 1800s, the early German settlers of northwestern Pennsylvania brought with them the tradition of Candlemas. Candlemas is a Christian observance that also falls on Feb. 2. It is more popular in Eastern Europe than it is in the United States. It celebrates an early event in the life of Christ — the presentation of baby Jesus to the Priests of the temple.

In England and Germany, the weather on Candlemas Day became an indicator that could be used to predict weather into the future. The following poem came from the Candlemas celebration. “If Candlemas be fair and bright, winter has another flight. If Candlemas brings clouds and rain, winter will not come again.”

Somehow, over the generations, in the quiet countryside of this rural hamlet, the traditions of Candlemas and Groundhog Day have melded into one celebration – the end of winter and the beginning of spring.

The weather forecast for Punxsutawney this morning has not been good for winter-lovers. That is to say, that the regular, non-rodent-looking weathermen have predicted partly cloudy skies with the possibility of light showers this morning in Punxsutawney. That makes it quite possible that Phil did not see his shadow.

Legend has it that Phil is afraid of his shadow. If the weather is sunny and Phil sees his shadow, he will become scared and return to his den. There he will go back into a state of hibernation for six more weeks as winter swirls in the world above him. If Phil does not see his shadow, he will stay outside and start eating and doing groundhoggy things, knowing that winter is largely over and that spring is just around the corner.

According to legend, Phil will actually speak to the President of the Groundhog Club in groundhogese (a language spoken only by Phil and the President). The President of the Groundhog Club will then translate Phil’s prediction to the people of the world.

I would like to think that things might be slightly different this year.

My hope is that Phil will emerge from his den. He will not see his shadow and he will whisper his secret words to the President of the Groundhog Club and the president will translate for the rest of us.

My hope is that he will say something like, “Phil has not seen his shadow. Winter is basically over.”

The groundhog spokesman will then continue by saying, “However, Phil also explained that he is sick and tired of the unrelenting campaign ads and mean-spirited political debates that have even penetrated the peace of his hibernation.

“Phil says that, if the crazy campaigning by the whacky people with blonde hair (both male and female) does not end, he will guarantee us that winter will never end. If sanity is not returned to the political process, Phil’s plan for the weather will create a little hell on earth, making global warning seem like a blip on the radar.” Phil says, “Knock off the bullying, lying and fear-mongering. Tell the truth and let the American people make an intelligent, informed decision on who their next President will be… or else.”

Oh, well … never mind. I guess the chances of that happening are about as likely as us finding a talking, weather predicting giant rodent in northwestern Pennsylvania, but sometimes it’s fun to fantasize.

Randy Riley is President of Council of Wilmington.

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Randy Riley

Contributing Columnist

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