Friday, February 03, 2006

Murmeltier Day

Two notable American events (with German tie-ins) happened this week: The State of the Union address and Groundhog Day. Since my thoughts on the State of the Union and the German reaction to it will take a bit longer to explain, today I’ll tackle Groundhog Day. (Incidentally, this is my mom’s favorite holiday because it is not commercial!)

For those who don’t know, Groundhog Day is celebrated each year on Feb. 2 in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Phil the Groundhog is pulled out of his hole (well it’s actually more of a little house that looks like a tree stump.) If he sees his shadow he will theoretically run back into his hole meaning there will be six more weeks of winter. If he doesn’t see his shadow, spring is just around the corner (in approximately a month and a half;-)) Groundhog Day is a well-known American holiday, though it is only in Punxsutawney that people really celebrate. The town swells from about 6,700 to 35,000 around Feb. 2.

Now for the German tie-in. There really is one, this is a German holiday! When Germans came to PA they brought with them Candlemas Day. A Groundhog Day website explains:

“It came at the mid-point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. Superstition held that if the weather was fair, the second half of Winter would be stormy and cold. For the early Christians in Europe, it was the custom on Candlemas Day for clergy to bless candles and distribute them to the people in the dark of Winter. A lighted candle was placed in each window of the home. The day's weather continued to be important. If the sun came out February 2, halfway between Winter and Spring, it meant six more weeks of wintry weather.”

The next part of the story gets a bit fuzzy, but basically it seems that the Germans would judge how sunny or cloudy the day was by looking for badger shadows. As immigrants moved to Pennsylvania they looked for groundhog shadows instead. Apparently there were lots of groundhogs in the area and the Delaware Indians who lived in there believed that they were groundhog descendants.

Phil saw his shadow yesterday meaning that it might be a snowy February in PA (my mom will be so pleased!) Phil would not have seen his shadow in Berlin yesterday, meaning that spring is just around the corner. What’s Berlin’s forecast this weekend: snow! What’s Phil’s historical rate of accuracy: 39%.

P.S. If you are ever looking for a fun movie to rent I can recommend Groundhog Day with Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell!


At 8:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This morning in the Express, they profiled the "other" forecasting groundhogs... apparently, besides Phil, here is Sir Walter Wally of Raleigh, NC (called for 6 more weeks of winter), General Beauregard Lee of Lilburn, GA (didn't see his shadow, early spring), and Staten Island Chuck, who boasts an 80% accuracy rate (didn't see his shadow, early spring). Who knew Phil wasn't alone??!!

At 2:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Erin -- I had no idea that the custom of putting candles in the window's of one's home came from Germany! When I moved from NY to PA, I was perplexed as to why people in York, PA kept candles in their windows lit all day and all year long! It looks like the germans brought that tradition over too! Anuradha


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