After enduring wind chills that would make a yeti weep, we need a holiday.
It doesn’t have to be a major celebration like Christmas — in fact, a low-key holiday without any expectations is perfect for this time of year. It should be something where we’re not expected to wrap a bunch of gifts, cook a huge meal or come up with an elaborate costume.
Enter that unlikely hero of early February: The groundhog.
If it’s true that every dog has his day, so does a groundhog. And that date is Feb. 2.
Groundhog Day is Saturday. Let’s hope for cloudy skies.
People are so desperate to celebrate ANYTHING during this gloomy part of the year that they created a holiday centered on a simple question: Will the groundhog see his or her shadow Saturday morning? Supposedly, if said animal — most famously Punxsutawney Phil in Pennsylvania — is frightened by that shadow and heads back inside, we’ll have six more weeks of winter.
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Rather than relying on the word of a large rodent, however, we can consult a calendar. In six weeks, we’ll be in the middle of March. I can say with confidence that, in Wisconsin, it will still be winter. Sorry, Phil.
Pagans started this!
Like a lot of our holidays, Groundhog Day began with the pagans. It was a sort of “reimagining” of Candlemas Day, a Catholic midwinter festival that had roots in — you guessed it — a pagan celebration. Europeans observing Candlemas tracked hibernating hedgehogs to predict when winter would end. After the Pennsylvania Dutch settled in America, they looked around for a hibernating mammal to help them monitor the weather. (Hint: They chose groundhogs/woodchucks.)
In 1886, the Punxsutawney (Pa.) Spirit newspaper printed the first news of a Groundhog Day observance. The next year, the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club celebrated for the first time at Gobbler’s Knob, and the newspaper’s editor declared Phil was America’s official weather-forecasting groundhog.
Those celebrations continue each year in Punxsutawney, where, come Saturday morning, the groundhog is slated to make his 133rd trek to Gobbler’s Knob.
Other weatherman groundhogs around the country include Buckeye Chuck in Ohio, Gen. Beauregard Lee in Georgia and Chattanooga Chuck, who works as “the chief seasonal forecaster” at the Tennessee Aquarium.
Gordy in Milwaukee
Closer to home the Milwaukee County Zoo has a new groundhog, 10-month-old Gordy, who is celebrating his first Groundhog Day.
The zoo’s Groundhog Day activities start at 10:30 Saturday morning.
According to tradition, if it’s a sunny day and Gordy sees his shadow, he’ll return to his burrow for six more weeks of winter, but if he does not see a shadow …expect an early spring.
The celebration includes a free raffle in which visitors can “Guess Gordy’s Weight.” The winning guess will receive a groundhog-themed headband, slippers and a groundhog plush toy.
Gordy arrived at the zoo in May and made his first public appearance in September.
Gordy was born in Indiana and was hand-raised, making it easier for zookeepers to train him for keeper talks and interactions with visitors. Bonus: Admission is free for everyone at the zoo Saturday. www.milwaukeezoo.org.
Bill and Phil
The obscure February holiday got a huge shot in the arm with the 1993 Bill Murray comedy “Groundhog Day.”
Murray stars as a jaded TV weatherman who is sent to Punxsutawney to cover the festivities. After being stranded in the small town due to a snowstorm, he wakes up the next morning to discover he’s forced to relive the same day over and over and over. In February. In Pennsylvania. Not exactly paradise.
The best way to celebrate Groundhog Day is to watch the comedy and salute Punxsutawney Phil on his special day.
Enjoy your 24 hours of fame, Phil. Once you’re done predicting the weather, it’s back to obscurity for another year.