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Punxsutawney Phil

Groundhog Day; Punxsutawney Phil via USA Today

I grew up in Pennsylvania, and because of that, Punxsutawney Phil was a big deal. Not as big a deal as if I had lived in Punxsutawney, but a bigger deal than it is living in Arkansas.

One reason: It was Pennsylvania.

Another reason: We were so sick of snow by then, we would have given almost anything for that furry little rodent to not see his shadow.

Ever year, my family would gather for breakfast and wait to see what weather Phil would predict for the coming six weeks. And it seemed like every year, we’d offer up a collective sigh because there would be six more weeks of winter. (You may think that’s an exaggeration, but since 1887, Phil has seen his shadow 100 times, predicting an early spring only 17 times.1 We almost always shared a regretful moan over his forecast.) One year, though, it dawned on someone in my family that there’s a reason Phil always sees his shadow.

It has nothing to do with the fact that it’s February-freaking-second when they drag him out to look around. (And by the way, he looks cold, sleepy, and none-too-happy to be bothered when they do it. Would you at dawn on February 2 in Pennsylvania?)

It’s got nothing to do with climate patterns, jet streams, polar vortexes, or any other such nonsense.

It has everything to do with the fact that every single camera crew there has a spotlight pointed at the poor creature. Of course he sees his shadow.

The tradition is darling, and I, like the rest of Pennsylvania and perhaps much of the rest of the country, will look forward to it for years to come. But I do not now, nor will I ever, put my trust in Phil’s predictions. There is the aforementioned built-in media bias (gee, that’s unheard of in this country) and more to the point, six weeks doesn’t quite get us out of the cold, anyway. I’ll just keep watching the meteorologists for the forecasts (because we all know they’re infallible) and wait for spring like everyone else.

Hopefully when my kids have their first tennis match in May, it won’t be snowing like last year. (Who ever heard of snow in May? In Arkansas?)

It snowed here yesterday. Again. The kids are off school. Again. And Phil is back in his cozy little nest (again), waiting for spring, which hopefully is just six weeks away. My family can wait out six weeks. We have each other. Thank God we get along. Because sometimes I think we might not dig our way out to civilization any time soon.

Hey writers… are there any traditions you can incorporate into your WIP? Ones rooted in historical lore like Groundhog Day?

Groundhog Day Fun Facts

  • It actually began as a Pennsylvania German custom in Pennsylvania in the 18th and 19th centuries.2
  • It originated in ancient European weather lore, where either a badger or sacred bear foretold the coming weather.2
  • The holiday also resembles the Pagan festival of Imbolc, which is celebrated on February 1 when the Celtic calendar moves from winter to spring.2
  • Another origin of the festival is the ancient celebration of Candlemas, the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, according to the climate center.1

If Candlemas be fair and bright,

Winter has another flight.

If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,

Winter will not come again.1

Think about traditions in your family, customs in your hometown, rituals in your faith. Perhaps there are conventions or beliefs that you can work into your WIP that will help enrich your characters or your town histories.

Do you have any interesting traditions to share? We’d love to hear all about them.

1 wikipedia

2 USA Today