Groundhog Day: Superbowl meets Punxsutawney Phil

“There are two figures that are infallible: the Pope and Punxsutawney Phil.”
Ron Ploucha, Punxsutawney Phil’s handler

Groundog stands in grassy field

Will the groundhog see his shadow? Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 2: If only Punxsutawney Phil could reliably predict the point spread at the Super Bowl! That’s what many are wondering—and joking—as Ground Hog Day coincides with Super Bowl XLVIII. And, yes, this is the first time in nearly half a century of Supe Bowls that the big game has coincided with this fanciful holiday that looks toward spring.

The organizers of Punxsutawney’s massive “Phil” celebrations certainly are joking about it! They’re boasting: “We’re the No. 1 event … and the Super Bowl is No. 2 behind us.” (Check out an article at NJ.com for full coverage details.) While countries across the world may not know a lot about the Super Bowl, they do know about Punxsutawney’s groundhog, organizers say, based on the calls and emails received at their headquarters. The Punxsutawney Chamber of Commerce director says he hopes Super Bowl spectators will be proudly wearing groundhog gear at the big game.

LOOKING FOR NEW LIFE WORLDWIDE

If you’re enjoying this Holiday column, you’ll also enjoy our story about Imbolc (a similarly themed holiday with Gaelic and pagan origins). You’ll also enjoy our story about the Chinese New Year of the Horse.

WHAT IS GROUNDHOG DAY?

Countless spectators worldwide will be holding their breaths today for the weather predictions of a small, furry critter, known as the groundhog, but more accurately called Marmota monax. Current customs—primarily those in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, where Groundhog Day is showcased throughout the town—date back to the 19th century among German settlers in Pennsylvania who had carried their European weather lore to the United States. The custom of tracking a critter’s shadow for its prognosticating ability is all but new, though: ancient Celts would spy for shadows at Imbolc, and Europeans would keep a lookout for badgers or bears. Some Native American tribes also had their own versions of the folklore. (Wikipedia has details.) Orthodox Christians in Serbia believe that a bear emerging from hibernation on Sretenje, or the Meeting of the Lord, on February 2, will be the telltale weather predictor.

HERE’S “THE RULE”: Folklore tells that if a groundhog emerges from his burrow and sees his shadow, six more weeks of winter will ensue; if he does not see his shadow, spring will arrive early.

Events in and around Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, draw tens of thousands of visitors each year: fireworks, stage performances, a Weather Discovery Center, museum and even steaming cups of “Phil Latte” all center around the town’s well-known groundhog history. (A photo slideshow of past events is at TribLive.) Groundhog Lodges hold festive parties with food, plays and good-natured fun, some of it in German dialect. Of course, the 1993 movie Groundhog Day is screened each year in Punxsutawney.

IN THE NEWS: A stage show?

Rumors are circling that a stage adaption of that 1993 film starring Bill Murray is in the works, with the writings and music of Danny Rubin and comedian-musician Tim Minchin. (The Rolling Stone reports.) The musical version of the story, Minchin says, will be both recognizable and different from the original film. No date has been announced for the project’s release.

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