Happy Marmota Monax Day

groundhog day

Editor's Note: This account was written a years ago, by a then-Journalism student. It still "stands the test of time", so we are happy to reprint it for Groundhog Day 2019.

By Mary E. MacIntyre

If Candlemas be fair and bright

Come, Winter, have another flight;

If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,

Go, Winter, and come not again.

Phil, the famous weather prognosticator, peeps out of his hole every Groundhog Day, to decide the meteorological fate of North America.

The day - February 2nd - is associated with the coming of spring ... or not.

If Punxsutawney Phil, the famous, Pennsylvania-based groundhog, comes out of his home in the ground and sees his shadow, that means that we will get at least six more weeks of winter. If he doesn't see it, it means that spring is just around the corner.

Punxsutawney Phil has been blessed with many names, such as "Seer of Seers", "Sage of Sages", "Prognosticator of Prognosticators", and "Weather Prophet Extraordinaire".

There is even a myth stating that Punxsutawney Phil has lived for thousands of years. If so, he has outdone his famous Canadian cousin, Wiarton Willie, who has kicked the bucket and been replaced by new groundhogs numerous times over the years.


Groundhog Day, for these tiny Pennsylvania and Ontario towns, is a bit of a tourist production, and often attracts annual coverage by the national media.

American meteorologist Doc Horsley poo-poohs the predictive abilities of Marmota monax (the Latin genus name for a groundhog or woodchuck). "It is not relevant to real use," he said. "If the groundhog was able to predict the weather better than the National Weather Service, then why is there still a weather service? The National Weather Service is 84 percent accurate, and the groundhog (according to Horsley's analysis of Phil's predictions) is 22 percent accurate, which is really less than guessing."

Okay, so maybe it's not scientific - not even close. So, why do we pay any attention at all to the day?

Perhaps because it is one way to collectively anticipate the end of winter, giving people a chance to dream about breaking free of the cold to emerge into the warmth and light and hope of spring.

When the Germans arrived in America in the 1700s, they brought the tradition known as Candlemas Day, a religious feast day. It was celebrated between Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox, on February 2nd.

Superstitions associated with Candlemas held that if the weather was fair at the time, the second half of winter would be stormy and cold.

For the early Christians in Europe, it was the custom on Candlemas Day for clergy to bless candles and distribute them to the people in the darkness of winter. A lighted candle was placed in each window.

The earliest North American reference to Groundhog Day can be found at the Pennsylvania Dutch Folklore Center. There, in the diary of Berk County storekeeper James Morris is this entry:

"Last Tuesday, the 2nd, was Candlemas Day, the day on which, according to the Germans, the Groundhog peeps out of his winter quarters and if he sees his shadow he pops back for another six weeks' nap; but if the day be cloudy, he remains out, as the weather is to be moderate".

In the last century-plus, Phil has cast (and apparently seen) his shadow over 90 times, and not cast a shadow about 15 times. About nine years went by without anyone recording his reaction.

Despite Horsley's disregard of his abilities, the people of Punxsutawney swear Phil has never been wrong - about the weather in their immediate area, at least.

So, even though there are some sceptics who may doubt Phil's and Willie's accuracy, we urge you to celebrate Groundhog Day. Take a Marmota monax out to lunch on the 2nd.