The groundhog and a 5-year-old-cynic
I thought it would be a simple conversation.
“Do you know what today is,” I asked my 5-year-old daughter Friday morning.
“No. What day is it,” she responded, full of both energy and curiosity.
“It’s Groundhog Day,” I said more excitedly than I probably should have.
Her nose wrinkled immediately and her face contorted like she was just told dessert on Thanksgiving Day would be broccoli pie.
“What’s Groundhog Day,” she asked.
And as I started to explain it, actually forming the words and then listening to them while watching someone’s reaction, I realized how ridiculous I sounded.
“Well sweetheart, it’s a day where everybody watches a groundhog and when he pops out of his hole, if he sees his shadow and runs back in, then winter will last six weeks longer. If he comes out though and runs around and plays, winter will be over soon.”
As I mentioned, she’s 5. She believes in Santa Claus. She believes in the tooth fairy and the Easter Bunny and the Boogeyman. Heck, she even thinks I’m the smartest, best-looking, strongest guy on the planet, so you know she’s guillible.
But even she wasn’t buying this one. “Daddy, are you making this up?”
Apparently, I’ve pulled one over on her one too many times.
“No, really dear. There’s a specific groundhog they watch in Pennsylvania. His name is Phil.”
“That’s just silly,” she said.
Silly or not, each year Punxsutawney’s population swells from 6,000 to 46,000 on Feb. 2 as scores of people flock to the small Pennsylvania town to watch Phil do pretty much the same thing each year. Out of 121 recorded “forecasts” there was only 17 early springs compared to 104 winters (including this year).
And while America may have made this “holiday” its own, its origins actually trace back to Germany and a Catholic Festival called Candlemas. The original forecasting animal was a bear coming out of hibernation, but as they became more scarce, it would be replaced by the badger.
Pennsylvania Dutch, who lived in German-speaking parts of Europe, brought the tradition to America in the 19th century and with an absence of badgers out east, a suitable substitute was found in the groundhog.
Considering its origins, there could arguably be a sliver of scientific validation for this seemingly absurd ritual of looking to an animal for a weather forecast.
Man frequently has (continues?) frequently taken cues from the animal kingdom in relation to weather, and a hibernating animal that doesn’t return to its lair could be an indicator of an early thaw. And to that end, most groundhogs do hibernate from October until March, so there’s that.
But regardless, on this Friday morning with this 5-year-old, it didn’t really matter. She’s a true skeptic.
“Daddy, a groundhog can’t control the weather,” she told me matter-of-factly. “Everyone knows that.”