You will have likely heard of Groundhog Day, largely thanks to the Bill Murray movie of the same name. But what is it? The answer lies in the US Midwest.
As it begins to emerge from the winter cold, every year, eyes turn to a small town in Pennsylvania on February 2 to see if a groundhog, known as Punxsutawney Phil, will see his shadow.
What is Groundhog Day?
According to the legend, if the creature, named after the Pennsylvania town, sees its shadow, that means six more weeks of winter.
It’s a piece of American folklore that has taken on a life of its own.
Each year, Punxsutawney hosts a mass Groundhog Day gathering, including many who fly in from outside the US, for the ultimate weather report. Much of the appeal stems from Murray's popular 1993 movie.
There's much that could be written about how the quirky meet-up evolved from its early beginnings in Germany before making its way to Punxsutawney in 1886, but I'll leave that to the Groundhog Day organisers.
Instead, I will skip right to the heart of the matter: the generations of groundhogs named Punxsutawney Phil.
Has Punxsutawney Phil ever got a prediction wrong?
Full disclosure: I’ve never actually attended a Groundhog Day event despite, at one point, living approximately an hour away from Punxsutawney. That being said, I did cover a few small stories surrounding the tradition.
One of these was in 2013. As a general assignment reporter covering central Pennsylvania at the time, I was tasked with meeting the rodent himself.
It was a year when poor Phil got it wrong. A prediction of a brisk winter was upended by a seemingly endless freeze.
As a result, a lawyer tried to have the groundhog extradited from Pennsylvania to an Ohio courtroom on charges of misleading the public.
It was a brilliant PR stunt. As part of the story, I interviewed the group tasked with keeping an eye on Phil, who resides in a comfortable enclosure known as Phil’s Burrow. It is located within the Punxsutawney Library, near the children’s books section.
These dedicated guardians are known as the “inner circle”, and they lovingly refer to Phil as the “prognosticator of prognosticators".
While the story itself was unremarkable, I do remember being surprised by a few things.
I recall Phil being transported in an open and relatively spacious circular plastic cage, before being taken out by one of his handlers for the interview.
I also remember that if the library isn’t open, you can actually see Phil’s Burrow from the outside — of course, I snapped myself in front of his digs.
Sitting here thousands of miles away in an Abu Dhabi newsroom, I am glad that Groundhog Day remains a big part of Punxsutawney tradition.
It is a story of the “little guy” fighting the elements and it sheds light on a quirky piece of American history.