The news was announced Saturday morning that Punxsutawney Phil, prognosticator extraordinaire, had said it would be an early spring this year, rather than six more weeks of winter. However, arriving at the office on Monday a discussion on the announcement had us wondering if Phil really called for an early spring or not.

The actual prognostication as announced was “Faithful followers, there is no shadow of me and a beautiful spring it shall be.” While it is true that Phil’s prognostication did not specifically say “early spring,” we cannot forget the part that said, “There is no shadow of me.” So Phil did not see his shadow and, according to superstitions of the Pennsylvania Dutch, it means an early spring. The superstition notes that if a groundhog coming out of its burrow on Candlemas Day sees its shadow because of clear weather, then it will retreat back to its burrow and winter will last another six weeks. However, if it does see its shadow because of it being a cloudy day, then spring will arrive early.

The Candlemas Day tradition was brought to this country by German settlers in the 1700s. Candlemas Day comes on Feb. 2, halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox.

The first Groundhog Day, according to History.com, came in 1887 on Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney. The website says the day has its roots in the Christian tradition of Candlemas when the “clergy would bless and distribute candles needed for winter.” The site notes the German settlers bringing the tradition to Pennsylvania but interestingly it wasn’t a groundhog that was the weather prognosticator in Europe. There the Germans had selected a hedgehog, but the switch in animals was made because of the bounty of groundhogs in the Keystone state.

According to History.com, “In 1887, a newspaper editor belonging to a group of groundhog hunters from Punxsutawney, called the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, declared that Phil, the Punxsutawney groundhog, was America’s only true weather-forecasting groundhog.”

According to Time.com, at one time in the early days of Groundhog Day, groundhog was also part of the menu. The website quotes Pennsylvania historian Christopher R. Davis as noting that the locals described the flavor as “a cross between pork and chicken.”

The website went on to say, “In the 1880s, per Davis, groundhog was the cuisine of choice at the Punxsutawney Elks Lodge. Devotees later formed the Groundhog Club, which hosted both the annual Groundhog Day ceremony and a summertime groundhog hunt followed by a picnic featuring a variety of groundhog dishes and a ‘groundhog punch...’, Davis writes.”

Today, of course, there is no hunting and cooking of Phil’s fellow groundhogs, thank goodness. One would think that with that type of feast, Phil would be continually predicting more winter just to get back at those long ago hunters.

The big question still remains. Will there be an early spring or not? Will Phil’s prognostication be proven correct? The first day of spring lands on March 20th this year, just a few days more than the six weeks noted in the tradition.

Whether it will or it won’t what Groundhog Day gave us this year was the hope of an early spring. With the rising temperatures, blue skies and sunny days, we can almost believe that Phil is right and spring is almost upon us. After the last week of below zero temperatures, we all need a little uplifting, a little hope.

So will Phil be correct? I can’t say I really care at least not at this moment. For now I have the hope of an early spring to hold on to and a few days of respite from the harshness of winter to enjoy. Combined it makes the heart sing and our steps lighter, at least for a while.

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