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Pins And Needles: The One And Only Punxsutawney Phil

Gloria MacKay tells of National Groundhog Day, a fun-filled American tradition, and of that ageless and infallible weather predictor, Punxsutawney Phil.

Makes you long to be there for the festivities next week!

Every year, on the second of February, Punxsutawney Phil shambles out of his hole and noses around for his shadow. If he finds it he will scurry back underground, knowing this means six more weeks of winter. No shadow? Phil stays on top of the world, confident that spring is just around the corner (a cliché, but oh well).

Actually, Phil has climate-controlled accommodations at the Punxsutawney Public Library, but the day before National Groundhog Day (one of America's indigenous traditions) the city fathers escort him to Gobbler's Knob, a hallowed spot on the outskirts of town, and deposit him in a heated burrow ... underneath a simulated tree stump ... on a stage. The next morning, when the fathers return to lift him out, over 30,000 spectators will await Phil's decision.

The ceremony, which gets bigger and more flamboyant every year, has been a Gobbler's Knob tradition for 122 years. One must assume Phil is the most recent of a long line of illustrious Punxsutawney groundhogs. Not so. To get the facts, check out his web site: http://www.punxsutawneyphil.com/ where his fan club allows true believers and skeptic alike to ask questions.

How many "Phils" have there been over the years?


C'mon... really?

Of course there has only been one Phil. How many Santa Clauses have there been?

How old is Phil?

Over a hundred years.

How often is Phil's prediction correct?

Phil is always correct!


You bet!

What's the secret of his long life?

Every summer the Groundhog Club gives Phil a special elixir called Groundhog Punch which extends his life for seven years with each sip.

Unfortunately, Phil is unable to vouch for the veracity of his web site, but his shadow reports are entered into the Congressional Record every year and that must mean something.

Phil's predictions are always correct, imagine that! 100% accurate. Not bad for a synonym for woodchuck or euphemism for rodent, and not even related to a hedgehog. And no caveat like the stockbroker waffle. Past performance is no indication of future performance. Not our fearless Phil. So, he works only one day a year. 100% is 100%.

Why Groundhog Day, anyway? Before this was even a twinkle in Phil's eye, Europeans celebrated it's forerunner, Candlemas Day, with church going, candle lighting, weather forecasting and song.

For as the sun shines on Candlemas Day,
So far will the snow swirl 'til the May.

And according to an old Scottish couplet:

If Candlemas Day is bright and clear,
There'll be twa (two) winters in the year.

It was the Germans who threw a hedgehog into the mix. Those who settled in America brought the tradition with them . . . but not the hedgehog. But before long, children were writing lively couplets to Punxsutawney Phil.

Is it sunny or cloudy? If you don't see your shadow,
You can say 'howdy'! emotes a Delaware first grader.

From a Pennsylvania third grade student comes,

Six more weeks will not be fun.
If he sees his shadow, I'm going to run!

If past performance predicts future performance, the 30,000 plus visitors at Gobbler's Knob this year can expect early morning fireworks followed by a rousing Pennsylvania Polka. Next, a town official will open the door of Phil's prefab stump and bring him out. As television cameras whirl crowds will cheer whether Phil sees his shadow or not, then walk back to town for fun and games and food. (Incidentally, the name of the town, Punxsutawney, comes from an Indian word meaning "town of the sand flies.) Nevertheless, a chili cook-off awaits along with food booths, ice carvings, woodchuck whittling and "Phil's Wedding Chapel." The finale? The Prognosticator's Ball.

Personally, I would forgo the festivities just so I could linger a while at Gobbler's Knob. Make friends with Phil. Get invited back to the library. Peek into his home. That elixer of groundhog punch must be stashed somewhere. What do you say, Phil? All I want is a sip.


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