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Groundhog Day – only the shadow knows

Today is a day Phil Connors can’t forget.

Today is a day Phil Connors can’t forget.

Phil Connors, for those who don’t remember, was the name of Bill Murray’s characters in what is generally considered one of the best comedies ever – Groundhog Day.

Oh, and look, today is Groundhog Day.

The story is a simple one: If the groundhog (or other suitable rodent) comes out of its burrow and sees its shadows, there will be six more weeks of winter. If it doesn’t, expect an early spring.

The tradition of the day dates back well before using rodents to forecast the weather. In the Christian calendar, February 2 has long been called Candlemas, celebrating the presentation of Jesus at the Temple. Candles were lit, hence the name.

Farmers seized on the date as being a good time to predict what the rest of the winter would be like. In Scotland, the saying was, “If Candlemas Day is bright and clear, there’ll be twa (two) winters in the year,” which seems pretty close to the modern tradition.

Germans immigrating to the United States and Canada brought the tradition of using a hedgehog coming out of hibernation as a forecaster, but found few hedgehogs on this side of the Atlantic.

No problem, they just switched to other hibernating rodents, like marmots or groundhogs. I sometimes wonder if some person years ago decided: “Bears hibernate, maybe we can use them to forecast the weather.” I also wonder if they ever found their remains after they woke the bear up to get its views on the weather.

And yes, many of the groundhogs across Canada and the U.S. have to be woken from their hibernation for the festivities on February 2, since that’s earlier than most of them would wake up on their own. And yes, that means groundhogs usually miss the Super Bowl, although some of them apparently now tape the game and watch it later.

Where was I?

Oh yes, the most famous four-legged forecasters is Punxsutawney Phil from Pennsylvania, but there are others, including a number on this side of the 49th parallel.

We have Wiarton Willie, Balzac Billy, Winnipeg Willow and Oil Springs Ollie.

And now the bad news. Despite the efforts of some of the Groundhog Day backers that their rodent has a 70 per cent accuracy rate, people who have correlated the groundhog predictions with what actually happened put the accuracy rate at 33 per cent.

A friend of mine some years ago told me her own Groundhog Day tradition: She got up on the morning of February 2 and went outside. If she saw her shadow, she went back inside and spent six more weeks in her computer and TV room.

If she didn’t see her shadow, she only spent the next month-and-a-half there.

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