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Saturday, February 2, 2008

Did Punxsutawaney Phil the groundhog see his shadow on groundhog day

It is time for the annual ritual so memorably described by Bill Murray as "a thousand people freezing their butts off waiting to worship a rat." But that was Murray during Phil Conner's cynical phase in "Groundhog Day." Here are five things to celebrate today about an animal that's more closely related to the ground squirrel than a rat:

By the Time We Got to Woodstock ...: Speaking of the Hollywood version of "Groundhog Day," the Illinois town that stood in for Punxsutawney, Pa., is in the midst of its annual "Groundhog Days," which began last Sunday and concludes this Sunday. We've already missed the Groundhog Wine Sampling Social, the Groundhogs on Parade Contest, the Lighting of the Groundhog, but remaining events include free screenings of the movie (10 a.m. Saturday and Sunday, Woodstock Theatre) and a symposium on the movie (3 p.m. Saturday, Woodstock Opera House). Details: (815) 338-243.

Crystal Anniversary:

One more thing for Bill Murray fans -- it has suddenly been 15 years since "Groundhog Day" hit theaters, and you can commemorate that by participating in a walking tour of 14 filming sites in Woodstock. There is a guided one Sunday (at 1:30 p.m. from the Woodstock Opera House), or take a self-guided tour on or around the actual anniversary (Feb. 12) using a downloadable map at www.woodstock-il.com. Of course, no tour would be complete without a visit to the snowy traffic scene on the Amstutz Expressway in Waukegan.

The Real Deal: Don't want to drive the 550 miles to Punxsutawney to see the actual Phil make his forecast? This being 2008, you can do it from the comfort of your laptop, using the live Webcam at the Punxsutawney Groundhog Zoo (groundhog.visitpa.co). Your choices include a crowd shot, a glimpse inside Punxsutawney Phil's lair ("from the stump"), and an expanded view of his palatial compound.

Weather Channeling: Though not as cinematically famous as their Pennsylvania cousin, the Brookfield Zoo's resident groundhogs, Cloudy and Stormy, will offer their own take on the arrival of spring from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday. Admission to the Children's Zoo and the Hamill Family Play Zoo is free during the event, which also includes music and children's activities. Details: www.brookfieldzoo.org.

Larger Than Life: Closer to home, the Lake County Forest Preserve District invites you to "wake our human-sized groundhog" today at the Ryerson Conservation Area in Riverwoods. The event kicks off at 1 p.m. and explore fact and fiction of groundhogs and weather. Whatever the case, let's cross our fingers for an early spring. Details: (847) 968-3321


Today is Groundhog Day in North America, a day where so-called prognosticating rodents (a.k.a. groundhogs) emerge from their burrows. Custom has it that, if they see their shadow, winter will continue for another 6 weeks; and if they do not, there will be an early spring. This year the US and the Canadian groundhogs differ. Pennsylvania’s Punxsutawney Phil thinks winter will continue (but that with Bush soon out, there’s hope yet) whereas Wiarton Willie quickly noted that Canada’s winter will soon be over and then high-tailed it to the closest pub.

The custom of predicting future weather conditions based on animals dates back at least a thousand years, but using the weather on February 2nd to forecast a longer winter is more recent than that.

It was during the Dark Ages in Europe that this widespread superstition took hold. Peasants and nobles alike noticed a strong connection between a bright, sunny, medieval Candlemas Day and long, dreary winter weather extending into the next 6 weeks:

If Candlemas be fair and bright, Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain, Winter will not come again.

In Germany, meanwhile, it was the hedgehog that played a starring role in a similar belief.

Farmers waited for late winter to watch the hibernating animal to come out of his burrow. If the hedgehog saw his shadow on a bright, sunlit day he quickly returned to hibernate…and thus put the official stamp on a prediction of six more weeks of winter for German farmers.

German settlers later brought the old belief with them to Pennsylvania, replacing the hedgehog with the more common American groundhog,

And the rest, as they say, is Groundhog Day history.

In popular culture, the 1993 film comedy Groundhog Day was a major hit for star Bill Murray, bringing Punxsutawney Phil’s popularity to new heights.

Today, Pennsylvania-born groundhog Punxsutawney Phil is a minor celebrity. This sleepy groundhog may be the most famous weather forecaster in the USA. Each year, the world’s paparazzi hold vigil in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania on February 2 as America waits with frosted breath for Phil to emerge.

So… can we count on an early spring in 2008? Or will there be six more weeks of winter?

Only Punxsutawney Phil’s shadow knows… Now the world

Are you ready

Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction this groundhog day says 6 more weeks of winter.
I wonder how groundhog stew would taste.

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