Chances are good you heard someone today asking, “Well, what was the result?” And unless they’re talking about the Iowa Caucus because they couldn’t muster the energy to stay up a little past their bedtime (spoiler alert: Cruz and Hillary!), they’re probably talking about what everyone talks about on February 2: Groundhog Day.
In case you’ve lived a blessed life, ignorant of this inexplicably bizarre winter “holiday,” I’ll give you the skinny*: Groundhog Day is a custom originating out of southeastern and central Pennsylvania in the 18th and 19th centuries by people of German descent. The tradition calls for using the second day of February to determine how soon we can expect the spring season to arrive, using the lovable groundhog as a proxy.
Not by coincidence, this day falls around the same time as the Christian holiday of Candlemas, which was historically regarded as the midpoint of winter. Now that we have, you know, science to back us up, we know Candlemas can vary from year to year, but in the old days, it was plucked down as February 2.
Groundhogs, like a few other mammals, hibernate for the winter — mostly from October to March or April, but sometimes for as little as three months. Their emergence from their winter abode was thought to be a good predictor as to whether the seasons would be changing soon. After all, animals tend to have a better feel for the climate than humans — and if a groundhog decides to stay out, it must be doing so under good instincts that winter is on its way out.
Under Pennsylvania German tradition, groundhogs come out on February 2 and perk their fuzzy heads out of their little winter quarters. If a groundhog sees its shadow, it runs back into its hibernation hole for another six weeks and the rest of the Northern Hemisphere is also stuck with another six weeks of winter. If it manages to avoid seeing its shadow, it stays out, and it’s a sign that spring will be here very soon.
Basically, it comes down to whether February 2 is a cloudy day or not.
Besides the absurd logic behind pinning down meteorological predictions behind a woodchuck (y’all know groundhogs are technically rodents, right?), there’s no real reason to think Groundhog Day is a good predictor for whether we’re in for an extended winter or not.
During every second half of winter, the sun’s direct rays also begin to feel more pronounced due to the northward shift of the Earth. The days become longer, the light feels stronger, and naturally, it begins to feel more like spring.
“Animals are dumb, but no animal is that idiotic.”
Groundhogs don’t just appear out of the blue one day in February to see if they’ll want to stick around for a while, or scurry away from scary shadows for another six weeks. Animals are dumb, but no animal is that idiotic. (And anyone who has ever had to deal with a groundhog digging tunnels in their yard knows those rodents are pretty damn clever.)
Statically speaking, the world’s most famous groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, has never been a good predictor for whether spring is arriving early or not. Since 1887, he’s only been correct 39 percent of the time.
Furthermore, the people who make a spectacle of Groundhog Day don’t even do it right. Phil doesn’t have to actually have to see his shadow — he just has to cast one. And the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club that manages the whole thing doesn’t actually give a shit about that rule — what Phil’s prediction will be is predetermined in advance.
Such was the case during a sunny Tuesday morning. According to the Club, Phil failed to cast a shadow — pretty impossible for a clear day. That’s because the Inner Circle of the Club already decided what the prediction was going to be. Which obviously begs the question: why even have a bloody groundhog there to begin with?
(Also — Inner Circle? What, did all the rejects of the Illuminati decide to usurp power over a worthless holiday just to have something to do?)
In conclusion, Groundhog Day sucks and it’s an affront to all admirers of logic and rationale everywhere.
Great movie, though.
*Initially I was prepared to apologize at this end of the story for using “skinny” under its slang definition, but I realized, I don’t owe you — yes you, the reader — anything.