Oi Polloi

Groundhog Day Comes but Once a Year

Published: Fri Feb 01 2013

Groundhog Day isn’t just a 1993 comedy featuring the acting talents of Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell. It is in fact a real deal holiday that takes place every year on February 2nd February. It’s admittedly more of an American tradition (and we’re not really too sure how much they celebrate it over there), but it’s pretty bizarre, so we couldn’t let it pass without a mention and a few bits of vital trivia.

As you should be well aware, Groundhog Day is the day in which a ground-dwelling rodent by the name of Punxutawnely Phil emerges from his slumber and inadvertently predicts the weather. If it’s cloudy then Spring will come early, but if Phil sees his shadow and heads back into his burrow then winter will continue for six more weeks. This may sound fairly scientific, but it turns out it’s not actually that reliable, and since 1887 Phil’s predictions have only been right 39% of the time.

According to the Inner Circle (that’s the top-hatted elite who look after Phil), he is well over 123 years old. This is apparently down to a drink he’s given known as the Groundhog Elixir. Even the healthiest of groundhogs rarely live above 14, so you don’t have to be Bill Oddie to realise there’s a bit of foul play afoot here.

Celebrated in the town of Punxutawnely, Pensylvania, this nonsense has been going on since at lease the mid 19th Century, but it’s believed the festival originated from a pagan tradition known as Imbolc. This was the festival to mark the beginning of Spring, and as well as lighting fires and eating butter (made from sheep milk if you’re wondeing), one of the main events was watching to see if serpents or badgers came out of hibernation.

As well as Groundhog Day, there’s also Marmot Day in Alaska and a festival in Serbia called Sretenje in which bears are used to predict the weather. These are pretty much exactly the same, but with different animals and in different places. The other difference is that as far as we know there wasn’t a smash hit Serbian comedy called Sretenje starring their answer to Bill Murray.

So will we be treated to an early Spring or plunged into a seemingly endless Winter? Be sure to stay glued to the official Groundhog Day website. And while you’re at it, watch out for that first step, it’s a doozy.