Groundhog Day is Biting Back This Year

By Ashley Neff

Luckily for New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, his tetanus shot was up to date when he was bitten by Staten Island’s own Charles G. Hogg, on Feb. 2.

The annual event of greeting Charles, also known as Chuck, on Groundhog Day, took a turn for the worse when Chuck decided to nip at the Mayor, puncturing his black leather glove. Bloomberg, repeatedly trying to lure Chuck out of his little hut with an ear of corn, may have gotten what was coming to him after teasing the groundhog for a few minutes.

Perhaps more importantly, the three pound groundhog did not see his shadow, so spring should be arriving soon, according to groundhog lore.

Chuck’s “cousin” Punxsutawney Phil, the more famous groundhog of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, offered a different forecast, as he saw his shadow that chilly Monday morning. And as for his handlers, Ben Hughes and John Griffiths, no injuries were reported.

Feb. 2, 1887 was Punxsutawney Phil’s premier at Gobbler’s Knob in Pennsylvania, the site of his predictions. But, it is said that an old German tradition is what gave rise to the modern holiday, Groundhog Day. America’s early German settlers claimed that Candlemas, the day prior to Groundhog Day, was the day a hedgehog makes his forecast. If he did not see his shadow, it meant spring was just around the corner. After the Germans settled in Pennsylvania, they used groundhogs instead of hedgehogs.

Candlemas is a Catholic holiday also known as the Purification of the Blood of the Blessed Virgin, or as the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. It is the halfway point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. According to tradition, if the weather is fair, the second half of the winter would be cold. If the weather was bad, there would be an early spring.

It is unknown why the second day of February was chosen to be Groundhog Day. It could possibly be because it is between the Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox, but no one knows for sure. Another theory claims that prior to the use of the Gregorian Calendar, the Julian Calendar represented March 16 as the Spring Equinox. Six weeks prior is exactly Feb. 2.

Groundhog Day is also often compared to Imbolc, a festival celebrated by Gaelic peoples and some other Celtic cultures, usually on Feb. 2.

Unfortunately for Phil, he has only predicted the correct weather 39 percent of the time. Historical documents offer that Punxsutawney Phil has seen his shadow 91 times, not seen his shadow 14 times, and there were nine occasions where there is no record of what happened that day.

The groundhog’s exploits were the basis of the 1994 comedy, Groundhog Day, in which Bill Murray relives the same day over and over until he corrects the many problems in his life.

Hopefully for Mayor Bloomberg, he will not have to relive this year’s encounter with Mr. Hogg.