Beyond the shadow of a doubt

Today marks the day that the immortal groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, awakens from his slumber to forecast the remaining length of winter weather for the year.

According to Punxsutawney Groundhog Club member John Griffiths, “this is to be the 119th trek to Gobblers Knob,” where tens of thousands of people will eagerly await Punxsutawney Phil’s proclamation.

Will overcast conditions hide Phil’s shadow, or will the groundhog buckle when he spies his own shadow on a bright and sunny day?

Those who live in Florida know that they get at least 300 sunny days out of the year. No oversized rodent could tell Floridians otherwise. Florida doesn’t even have groundhogs. So what’s the big deal if the rodent gets squeamish at the sight of his own shadow and flees to hide in his burrow to hibernate for another six weeks? Why is this a holiday and what is the importance of the groundhog?

“I don’t know,” USF graduate student Amy Anderson said. “It’s kind of like Arbor Day.”

“Maybe we watched the groundhog’s eating habits because they come out when winter is over,” USF freshmen Melbamarie Tejera said. “So then we would know when our winter was over.”

“Maybe it was the only animal they could pick up without steel-lined gloves,” USF senior and telecommunications major Michelle Whidden said. “I don’t really know.”

Historically, a sunny day on Feb. 2, also known as Candlemas Day, would indicate winter was to be longer than anticipated. According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, a bear brought this news in France and England, while a badger informed Germany. Having found no badgers in Pennsylvania, the German immigrants of the 1800s used the groundhog. This evolved into the present version of Groundhog Day.

So what makes this important enough to celebrate?

“As far as I know it is a uniquely American holiday,” said Michelle Whidden. “It’s something fun and quirky about America.”

“People, especially in the North, need to have a reason to hope that spring is coming,” USF sophomore Chelsea Berkley said.

However, to must of us, Feb. 2 isn’t a very big deal.

“I used to worry about it before,” USF freshmen Stephanie Klein recalled. “I’m from the North. We used to watch the news to see if the groundhog saw his shadow.”

Among the most festive on Groundhog Day celebrators are the people of Punxsutawney, Pa. and the incredible number of travelers the town receives each year.

“Groundhog Day and the days preceding it draw a lot of tourists,” said Tom Chapin, the editor of the Punxsutawney Spirit.

Throughout these days visitors will be able to attend ice carving exhibitions, an ethnic food festival, scavenger hunt, weather discovery center and hay ride tours of the town.

In addition to the traditional fanfare, wedding ceremonies will be observed at Phil’s Chapel, under the mayor of Punxsutawney and quite possibly by the groundhog himself.

“There are a lot of weddings already booked up,” Chapin said. “People are coming from places like Texas, Ohio, and Maryland to get married here.”

Punxsutawney Phil, the main attraction, will make a number of appearances during the celebration.

“He’ll be out and about,” Chapin said. “He travels in a glass case with holes on the sides, but that’s just to get him around so that the people can see him, and so that he can see the people.”

Today, Griffiths will be one of three other Groundhog Club members who will don a tuxedo and top hat and entertain the crowd that awaits Phil’s proclamation.

“Mostly we just try to take everyone’s mind off of the fact they’re getting frostbite,” he said.

When asked about the similarities between Punxsutawney in the Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day with real life Punxsutawney, Griffiths stated:

“There is an unbridled, raw energy that is touched upon, but never fully captured in the film. Groundhog Day is meant to be fun. That is the way we approach it, the town approaches it and you should approach it.”