Groundhog Day and other “Old Wives’ Tales”

The first time I came to work in America was in 1987, and in the winter of 1988 a friend mentioned Groundhog Day, February 2nd, to me. I had never heard of the tradition before. At first I thought, “These people are crazy! If this rodent sees his shadow it means 6 more weeks of winter, and if he doesn’t it means spring will come early? That’s just crazy!”

Phil the Groundhog is raised aloft! (Image source: http://www.groundhog.org/)

Phil the Groundhog is raised aloft! (Image source: http://www.groundhog.org/)

The most famous Groundhog is Punxsutawneny Phil, and according to the official Punxsutawney Phil website, other groundhogs who predict a long or short winter are just, “imposters.”

Phil’s weather forecasting capabilities go back to the early German settlers who used the light of the sun on Candlemas Day to claim that snow would remain on the ground until May. The groundhog was used to make the first prediction back in 1887.

Old Moore himself (Image Source: Old Moore's Almanac website)

Old Moore himself (Image Source: Old Moore’s Almanac website)

It is all very far fetched, but then again,… I grew up with the notion that Old Moore’s Almanac was a true as the Bible. Old Moore predicted the weather 12 months in advance! Old Moore has been around for nearly 250 years! He should know a thing or two!

Old wives’ tales such as lifting a stone in the field, and whether or not its underside was dry/wet meant a dry or wet summer. Cut your hair when the moon is waning, it will grow faster, and the number of magpies you saw meant either sorrow, joy, marriage, death, silver, gold or a secret never to be told. Or how about “a whistling woman and a crowing hen will rouse the devil from his den.”

It would seem that even with Dopplar radar, the great polar vortex, satellite weather forecasts, and other ways of seeing into the future, we’re having a hard time letting go of these older traditions. And we shouldn’t let them go.

So how dare I scoff at Punxsutawney Phil’s weather predicting ability, because I clearly remember cutting my hair when the moon was waning to make it grow faster when I was fourteen.

By the way, Punxsutawney does not translate from the Native American into English as The Town of the Groundhog, it means place of the sandflies, but it would be very difficult to see the shadow of a sandfly on February 2nd.

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3 thoughts on “Groundhog Day and other “Old Wives’ Tales”

  1. My question is this: does the light to cast the shadow have to come from the sun (very cloudy in PA today) or do the lights from the cameras count? If the former, we are in good shape; if the latter…not so much.

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