by Melissa kay Bishop
Chucking wood is not the main occupation of woodchucks, but a casual pastime between digging burrows, destroying gardens, whistling at passers by, and predicting the weather. This snaggle-toothed varmint and icon is otherwise known as marmot, whistle pig, or groundhog.
On February 2, the groundhog is the rodent of honor as tradition dictates. At 7:25 a.m. under much pomp and circumstance, the swimsuit ready critter who has slept off his winter fat stores, emerges to an awaiting crowd. The most famous place for this annual event is hosted by Punxsutawney Phil of Pennsylvania who has been the official groundhog since 1886.
Huddled in the midwinter cold, attendees anxiously await Phil's appearance and to see whether or not he sees his shadow. If he does, that means six more weeks of winter. Since the auspicious date is the mid point between Winter Solstice and the Vernal Equinox, there usually are six more weeks of winter to endure.
This practice has ties that reach back to a time when people relied on nature for just about everything, including information. In Pre-Christian Europe, February 2, was called Imbolc. As Christianity spread, the day became Candlemas. As German settlers came to America and congregated in Pennsylvania, with all their old-world traditions, the day has become simply known as Groundhog Day.
Around the country there are famous groundhogs that predict their region's hopeful spring forecast. Although, Phil and his cohorts such as Buckeye Chuck from Ohio or General Beauregard Lee of Georgia, may feel a bit second hand to know that they are the American stand- ins. In Germany, it was a hedgehog or badger that was used for the event. Since these creatures are pretty scarce in Pennsylvania, settlers picked up the next best thing, the groundhog, as there were and are plenty.