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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Groundhog Tales

  Groundhog Day is a festive event that occurs in North America on February 2nd. According to folklore, if a groundhog sees his shadow, he'll retreat to his lair and winter will be lengthy. Should it be overcast, he'l come out of his burrow and Winter will soon end. While the origin is in dispute, the modern incarnation derives from superstitions held by Pennsylvania and Southern Ontario Germans who likely carried the tradition from the old country. 
  Whether or not there is any truth to relying on animals to predict future weather, Groundhog Day is a nice break from obsessing about the winter's chill and a sign of brighter days ahead. With that in mind, here are a few interesting Groundhog Day facts for you to enjoy.

  When the Canadian groundhog Wiarton Willie died in 1999 (at the ripe old age of 22) , he was found dead just before Groundhog Day. On Groundhog Day, a miniature coffin with a stuffed groundhog complete with coins over his eyes and a carrot between his paws was revealed to the world press. Shortly after, it was discovered that the real Willie had decomposed and that this was a generic taxidermied groundhog. A minor scandal ensue, with foreign press having to issue a retraction. 

  In Alaska, groundhogs are scarce. Thusly, February 2nd is Marmot Day. The bill was introduced into legislature and signed in 2009. The governor? Sarah Palin. 

  Shubenacadie Sam is the first of the famous groundhogs to predict the coming weather. This is because he's in Nova Scotia, a time zone ahead of Wiarton Willie and Puxsatawney Phil. He's also a relatively new beast, first celebrated in 1987. He is not roused from his lair like other groundhogs, but if anyone can sleep through Nova Scotia bagpipers and a town crier, he's a sound sleeper indeed.

  The oldest famous burrowing rodent is by far Puxsatawney Phil. While groundhogs have an average lifespan of 10 years, believers say Phil really is 121 years old. Every day, save for the day he makes his prediction, Phil lives in the town library with his wife, Phyllis. A select group of town citizens take care of the pair year round, who say that Phil drinks a magical life-extending potion every summer. Phil is said to make his prediction in an unknown language that only his Inner Circle understand. The forecast is then translated for the rest of the world. 

Those who support Groundhog Day folklore claim a prediction rate of over 75%, when in reality, they have been right less than 40% of the time. This seems to be statistically less than chance, so I suggest that if an accurate prediction is to be made, it is the exact opposite of the groundhog legend.  For the record Phil, Willie, and Sam all predicted an early Spring, so I'm going with a long winter. Environment Canada agrees with me.

Suck on that, Sam.

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