Hear Ye, Hear Ye, Hear Ye

All cultures have traditions that seem strange to an outsider. To withstand the test of time and not fade out, these traditions presumably had to fill some niche in our lives much like different species fill a specific niche in an ecosystem. Thanksgiving caters to our sentimental side with family reunions, Halloween allows us to dress up and let loose, even some of the lesser known holidays like President’s Day fulfill the nationalistic tendencies of its citizens. However, there is one American tradition that to an outsider seems to defy all logic: Groundhog Day.

Celebrated on February 2nd, this is a tradition where a groundhog will predict the end of winter based on whether or not it sees its shadow. I can kind of understand its purpose when it was started in the 19th century. In the absence of any reasonable method of determining when to start planting your crops; sure, why not believe in the predictive powers of a rodent? But we now live in the twenty-first century. We have satellites that can give real time readings of multiple attributes of the earth’s atmosphere, we have computer models that can simulate the climate, surely we no longer need to rely on a groundhog for weather predictions. So, why is Groundhog Day still observed?

As you may know, of the many groundhogs in America that participate in this ritual, Punxsutawney Phil (a.k.a. Seer of Seers, Prognosticator of Prognosticators , Weather Predictor Extraordinaire) is the most well known. The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club (arguably the most powerful of the groundhog clubs) is responsible for its upkeep, which includes chores like feeding Phil a sip of the magical life extending elixir that has allowed him to live for more that 100 years. The club’s inner circle is comprised of 15 top hat wearing white men who organize the event each year, and are largely responsible for the propagation of the groundhog lore. The determination of whether or not Phil sees its shadow lies solely on the president of the Groundhog Club. After Phil is roused from hibernation, he will whisper its prediction in “Groundhogese” into the ear the current club president who will translate it and announce it for the world to hear – the infinitesimal portion of the world that is listening, that is.

It is amazing how this club in Pennsylvania has positioned themselves so that they are instrumental to the rituals involved in Groundhog Day. Without them, who will decipher the prophecies made by Phil? Each year around Groundhog Day thousands of people flock into the town of Punxsutawney, making the spectacle a great source of tourism revenue. The more dependent the towns people are on this revenue stream, the more power the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club wield. The need for people to feel important can be a strong motivator, and so to ensure the survival of this tradition lots time and energy is invested in publicizing the event. It has now even reached the point where the phrase, “Hashtag: Six more weeks of winter” was translated from Phil’s message this year. Yes, Phil is now on Twitter. When you think about it all, with so much on the line maybe its not so surprising that Groundhog Day has survived to this day.