February Second is upon us, time for the various famous groundhogs across the country to have their day in the sun — or clouds, as the case may be. Most people know the drill: Punxsutawney Phil (or Union Canal Uni, or General Beauregard Lee, or Octorara Orphie, or Stormy Marmot, the list goes on) climbs out of his burrow and looks for the sun. If he sees his shadow, it scares him back home, for another six weeks of winter; if not, he hangs out a while and spring is ‘just around the corner.’
Each hog has his own way of doing things. For example, Phil presents his handlers with a scroll bearing his prognostication. This makes me wonder how he manages to hold the quill to write it down. Uni takes a little cruise each year, riding a miniature canal boat down the Tulpehocken Creek, towed by members of the local Grundsow Lodge.
If you’re wondering what a Grundsow Lodge is, I’ll do my best to explain. Groundhog Day, or Grundsaudaag, is a PA Dutch tradition, one we brought from the Old Country. In Germany, people would watch badgers on Candlemas Day, looking for clues to the length and severity of the winter still to come. In Pennsylvania, badgers are in short supply, but there are groundhogs aplenty.
Groundhog day officially became a thing in the USA in 1887, when the editor of the Punxsutawney Spirit made their town groundhog the go-to weatherman, er, -hog. These days, Phil lives a pampered life of ease. Uni, on the other hand, doesn’t do much; it’s hard to do much when you’ve been taxidermied. Mostly, he just stands around on his haunches, holding an American flag.
Back to the lodges; the first one assembled in 1933, as a way of celebrating Pennsylvannisch Deutch, our particular dialect of German, and our PA Dutch culture. At the events, or ‘fersommlings,’ only Dutch is spoken, and you can be fined for slipping up and speaking English. Top hats and tails are the dress code, and a sense of humor is de rigeur. Yes, that’s a manure spreader, serving as a lectern in the photo.
After all, it’s all in good fun, and why not? Why else would you consult an overgrown rodent about the weather? Happy Grundsaudaag!