Updated: Nov 12, 2020
Most have seen the successful time trap romantic comedy “Groundhog Day” starring the king of snark Bill Murray and the inexplicable non siren wet fish Andie MacDowell. If this has passed you by, it is, despite Andi MacDowell’s presence a delightful film, and well worth watching. Do so now!
The film does a very effective job in explaining the mechanics of Groundhog day to a global audience. It is a folklore tradition in rural Pennsylvania where a groundhog’s reaction to his shadow upon leaving his burrow is used as a predictor for how much longer Winter will last.
In south eastern Pennsylvania the event is a social gathering involving food, speeches and short performances of comedy sketches or plays. The German dialect of the region is strictly observed and anyone speaking English pays a penalty fine of a small coin per word spoken. The particular festivities at Punxsutawney, as featured in the 1993 film, are the most recognised and popular traditions. Records date back to such festivities since at least 1886. These days it is possible for crowds in excess of 40,000 attending these particular annual events.
The big question is accuracy. Much like the Octopus who predicted football tournaments and Presidential election results with devastating accuracy, it seems that groundhog accuracy based on observation of whether he returns to his den or not is around 75 – 90% accurate. This has recently been put to serious study by the National Climatic Data Center in the US stating that the forecasts are “on average, inaccurate…[the] groundhog has shown no talent for predicting the arrival of spring, especially in recent years.” In fact, when analysing the Punxsutawney predictions since 1887, the accuracy rate is an uninspiring 39%.
The tradition has its origins in central Europe where a badger was the animal in question and seems to be interlinked with the Celtic calendar festival of Imbloc on the same day, which involved predictions of weather and seasons change.
Similar customs exist. In Serbia during the feast of Sretenje on February 15 a similar prediction is made by a Bear emerging from his cave. Weather predictions are also found on June 27 in Germany where the weather for the rest of summer is predicted by the weather on that day. In Britain, St. Swithun’s day on July 15 it is believed that if it rains that day it will rain for the next forty days.
So, it seems according to Punxsutawney Pete we are doomed to six more weeks of winter this year, there are worse ways to survive the cold than rewatching Murray trapped in his repetitive rural idyll purgatory, so wrap up and settle in, it is hibernation weather people!