Punxsutawney Phil! Where is Spring?!
There are many interesting things people do because it is lumped under the word “tradition”. Like throwing tailgate parties for football games, pardoning one lone turkey every Thanksgiving, or stoning one unlucky person as a sacrifice for a great and bountiful harvest. Alright, so that last point was the plot of Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery (a great short story everyone should check out at their local library. Or if that is a bit too much, feel free to watch the two-part short film adaptation on youtube. Believe me it is a great time.)
But there is another tradition that happens every year and with it, brings a confused expression to my face.
Can someone tell me why should I care about Punxsutawney Phil and his “accurate” weather predictions?
Let me first state that I enjoy the idea of Punxsutawney Phil. It’s very pagan of America to have a day that literally celebrates using a giant rodent as a barometer to see whether or not Winter will last until March or April.
If we didn’t have this giant rodent I doubt we would ever be able to figure out our weather. Oh wait. There is already an item that tell us when Winter is ending or coming or when frost is suppose to kill the crops. It’s called the Farmer’s Almanac. First written in the times of President George Washington (or 1792, to be exact), Robert B. Thomas came up with a book that gives weather and climate predictions. With scientific observation and equations -whose formulas are said to be as top secret as the Coca-Cola recipe- Thomas was able to be 80 percent accurate with his predictions, which for Science in 1792 is quite impressive. Punxsutawney Phil didn’t become a United States tradition until 1887, 95 years after the Farmer’s Almanac. So again I ask, why are we so enamored with a giant ground rodent when science has provided us with the answers?
Through more digging on what I am now calling the “Phil Phenomena”(trademark pending), I learned that Groundhog Day is an unlikely paring of Delaware Indian and Germanic culture. Delaware Indians who named the location where Phil is located ” Ponksaduteney” believe that their ancestors, or forebears, began initally as animals in side Mother Earth only to emerge centuries later to hunt and live as men. So the groundhog (also known as the woodchuck who could chuck wood), is an ancestral grandfather .
(The fact that the Delaware Indians had come up with the framework for evolution before Science even knew what it was is so interesting to me.)
When German settlers came over, they brought the tradtion of Candlemas Day, a holiday that started off pagan but ended up Christian (like most Christian Holidays we celebrate here in the United States) at the midpoint between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox. It first started with the idea that if the weather was fair on that day, then the second half of winter would be storm and cold and vice versa. That morphed into Christian clergy blessing candles that were to be lit and put into the windows of each home (to ward off storms…supposedly) and if the Sun came out on that day, the next six weeks of winter would be extra wintery.
Some time between the 1700s and 1841– when the first reference of Groundhogs day was recorded– the day changed from the sun coming out, to if a groundhog saw it’s shadow on that day then the last weeks of winter would be rough. To me, it seems that the settlers incorporated a bit of the Delaware Indian culture and made it about the First Nations’s ancestral grandfather. Not sure if that was out of wanting to be close to the culture they had displaced or the fact that groundhogs are all over the place around there. Either way, that’s basically how Groundhogs Day was born.
So after all of that history (and research. So much research), we get to the science bit and ask, “How right is Phil every year?” In the 129 years of the “Phil Phenomena”, Phil has seen his shadow 102 times and not seen the shadow 18 times.
(There were nine times in the late 1800s where there is no record of Phil. So he was either moving or went on vacation.)
Out of those 120 times,Phil has only been correct 39% of the time, according to sources.. THIRTY-NINE PERCENT OF THE TIME! If I flip a coin, I have a 50/50 chance of getting either heads or tails. 39% means that in all of Phil’s decades…nay… century of seeing our weather future has only produced 46.8 correct predictions. That’s not good. We get ready to take up our pitchforks and torches if the our local weather person is wrong once in the week. We must not care that he is wrong a majority of the time because he is so cute.
Thankfully, Phil predicted that this year we will get an early spring. So we should all get prepared for all the warm weather.