Monday, February 2, 2009

Six more weeks of winter? Curl up with a good book...

Did you ever wonder how Groundhog Day came about? I did, so I did what I usually do when curiosity strikes. I went to the library's databases to find the answer. In Daily Life Online, my favorite source for folklore facts, I found an article from Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology, and Legend that told me the significance of February 2 (or February 14, according to some die-hard traditionalists).

Traditionally, this day was significant to farmers who wanted to determine when they could safely sow or plant their crops. A late-winter arctic blast could mean death to tender young shoots, and a bad harvest. So they traditionally looked to signs and portents to tell them what the weather would be like. For some reason, the humble marmota monax was looked to for the answer. You know the story: if the groundhog comes out of his hole, sees his shadow and goes back inside, then we'll have six more weeks of winter. No planting for us. The famous groundhog Punxsutawney Phil in Pennsylvania did just that today. However, Georgia's own official groundhog prognosticator, Beauregard Lee, did just the opposite, remaining outside his home at the Yellow River Game Ranch to proclaim that spring was just around the corner.

Similar traditions exist in Europe, by the way, but they don't listen to groundhogs over there. In Germany, they put their faith in the badger. In other parts of Europe, they ask a bear.

February 2 was officially designated Groundhog day by Act of the Missouri Legislature, and the rest of the country has followed.

Have other folklore questions? Check out Daily Life Online.

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