Sunday, Feb. 2, was a landmark day in history.
It was the first global palindrome day in 909 years, meaning the date read the same forward as it did backward. The Kansas City Chiefs made an electrifying comeback against the San Francisco 49ers. Emme Maribel Muñiz and other young girls joined Jennifer Lopez and Shakira on stage at the halftime show, shaking the grounds of Miami with their Colombian dances like the mapalé, the champeta, salsa and Afro-Caribbean rhythms.
However, the Chiefs were not the first public figures to give the country hope on Sunday. Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog of Groundhog Day, did not see his shadow, signaling spring is fewer than six weeks away.
In Spokane, though, it feels as though winter is finally arriving. After weeks of what felt like a wet spring, the temperature is finally dropping, and we are, once again, battling through inches of snow to get to class.
So, should we trust a mangy rodent to give us hope that spring is right around the corner?
I could argue it is not for mere entertainment that the country pretends this one rodent can predict the weather, because no way could this rodent rehearse emerging from Gobbler’s Knob, the designated Groundhog Day hill, on Feb. 2 every year.
Except he does.
Punxsutawney Phil lives in a climate-controlled home at the Punxsutawney Library in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. He is taken to Gobbler’s Knob and placed in a heated burrow underneath a simulated tree stump on stage before being pulled out at 7:25 a.m. on Groundhog Day, to make his prediction.
Data from the Stormfax Almanac shows Phil’s six-week prognostications have been correct about 39% of the time over 123 recorded years.
That accuracy might stink more than GU men’s basketball free-throw percentage, and definitely stinks as much as the rodent himself.
Perhaps the silliness of Groundhog Day is just Pennsylvania’s annual day of fame, where Punxsutawney Phil (whose full name is Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators and Weather-Prophet Extraordinary) and Gobbler’s Knob redeem their spot as the state emblem.
Punxsutawney Phil made his first debut in predicting the upcoming spring in 1886, and the process hasn’t changed since.
The international tradition behind Groundhog Day is exactly that: a tradition.
Feb. 2 is exactly halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. Historically, on this day, Christians brought candles to their local church to be blessed, which in turn brings light and warmth to the home for the remainder of the winter.
Germany fashioned its own interpretation of Candlemas that incorporated small hibernating animals, instead of candles, into the lore, such as hedgehogs. If a hedgehog emerged Feb. 2 and saw its own shadow, there were six more weeks of cold weather. If it didn’t see its own shadow, then spring came sooner.
Then, early German immigrants arrived in the U.S. and settled in present day Pennsylvania. Because hedgehogs are native to Europe and don’t exist in the wild in North America, the German settlers searched for another burrowing animal in the area to consult and found the groundhog.
Groundhog Day started in Pennsylvania as a religious tradition and was transformed into a means for keeping German culture alive as Germans made the United States a new home.
So, I can’t wholeheartedly rely on the prognosticating groundhog that spring is in sight.
But, what I can easily promote is the celebration that is rooted in the migration of Germans to the U.S. While I feel apprehensive about trusting Phil, I give that rodent appraisal, knowing we aren’t necessarily celebrating spring’s coming, but, rather, we are celebrating German heritage and keeping the culture alive.