Since as early as the 1840s, Groundhog Day has been observed in parts of Pennsylvania. In places like Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, the observation has become a highly-celebrated tradition, thanks in large part to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, which hosts a series of events throughout the weekend.
One of the best things to ever happen to Groundhog Day (in my opinion) was the movie of the same name. It is a great comedy, as well as a unique view of human behavior and change. It wears well and even after multiple viewings, the predicament of the main character still resonates … we identify with Bill Murray’s Everyman.
A number of my mother’s ancestors hail from Berks County PA where the earliest observations of Groundhog Day took place (in Morgantown PA), so I enjoy knowing something about PA festivals. These are my peeps! However, celebrants in Punxsutawney PA claim their tradition goes back more than a century. Those are not my peeps, though having watched the movie several times, I find their enthusiasm for this event contagious!
Resources show the observation going further back than Pennsylvania, all the way to pagan observances in Europe. Another interesting fact has to do with Gobbler’s Hill, the spot where Phil’s underground burrow is located. The spot appears to have gotten its name because part of the historic celebration included feasting on … groundhog! Naturally, I’m wondering: did Phil’s prognostications turn the celebrants against him and bring about his execution? Six more weeks? You won’t be around to see them, you worthless rat!
Seems to me, whether Phil predicts six more weeks of winter or reports that Spring is on the immediate horizon, we still endure the weeks leading up to the first official day of Spring (between March 19 and 21). Technically, Phil’s supposed prognostications are amusing but useless. (I suppose I might feel differently if I were a merchant in Punxsutawney PA whose bottom line depended on the hoopla immediately before and during the February 2nd events.)
Another word for groundhog is woodchuck (the Marmota monax). (Hence my title question.) Interestingly, the name is derived from the Algonquin term wuchak which has nothing to do with wood. If someone asks “how much wood would a woodchuck chuck … ?” the correct answer is: NONE!
Tipping my hat to the entrepreneurs in Punxsutawney, I offer today’s light verse as a small contribution to the much larger commemoration of burrowing, furrowing rats whimsically awakened before daybreak. Anyone have a good recipe for groundhog patties?