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Groundhog Day

And if you think you’ve read it before…. you’re right!

2nd February is Candlemas. According to legend Candlemas commemorates the ritual purification of Mary, 40 days after the birth of her son Jesus. This day also marks the ritual presentation of the baby Jesus to God in the Temple at Jerusalem.

Ritual purification stems back to a Jewish tradition that women were considered unclean after the birth of a child. For 40 days for a boy, and 60 days for a girl, women weren’t allowed to worship in the temple. At the end of this time, women were brought to the Temple or Synagogue to be purified. After the ceremony women were allowed to take part in religious services again.

The festival is called Candlemas beacuse this was the day that all the Church’s candles for the year were blessed. On Candlemas night, many people place lighted candles in their windows at home. Like some other Christian festivals, Candlemas draws some of its elements from Paganism. In pre-Christian times, it was the festival of light. This ancient festival marked the mid point of winter, half way between the winter solstice (shortest day) and the spring equinox. Some people lit candles to scare away evil spirits on the dark winter nights. People believed that Candlemas predicted the weather for the rest of the winter.

If Candlemas Day be fair and bright
Winter will have another fight.
If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain,
Winter won’t come again.

Which is quite reassuring considering the weather in these parts today!

Pennsylvania’s official celebration of Groundhog Day began on February 2nd, 1886 with a proclamation in The Punxsutawney Spirit by the newspaper’s editor, Clymer Freas: “Today is groundhog day and up to the time of going to press the beast has not seen its shadow.”  The groundhog was given the name “Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators, and Weather Prophet Extraordinary” and his hometown thus called the “Weather Capital of the World.”  His debut performance: no shadow – early Spring.

The legendary first trip to Gobbler’s Knob (oooer Missus!) was made the following year.

gobblersknob.jpg

The groundhog, also known as a woodchuck (Marmota monax), is a member of the squirrel family.  Groundhogs in the wild eat succulent green plants, such as dandelion, clover, and grasses.

According to handlers John Griffiths and Ben Hughes, Phil weighs 15 pounds and thrives on dog food and ice cream in his climate-controlled home at the Punxsutawney Library.

Up on Gobbler’s Knob, Phil is placed in a heated burrow underneath a simulated tree stump on stage before being pulled out at 7:25 a.m. to make his prediction.

Since the 1993 release of the film Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray as a TV weatherman (who wakes up and it’s Groundhog Day over and over again!) and Andie MacDowell as his puzzled producer, attendance at the real event has expanded.  In 1997, there were 35,000 visitors in Punxsutawney, five times the Jefferson County town’s 6,700 population.

The Groundhog Day festivities on February 2, 1992 were joined by Bill Murray studying for his role in the movie.  Then, Columbia Pictures set out to recreate the Punxsutawney Groundhog Day down to the smallest detail.  There were, however, many changes made.

Columbia Pictures decided to film the movie in a location more accessible to a major metropolitan center.  The highways in and around Punxsutawney were few, so Woodstock, Illinois was chosen as the site.  Unfortunately, Woodstock’s landscape doesn’t have Pennsylvania’s scenic rolling hills.  Nevertheless, adjustments were made for the production.  The actual Gobbler’s Knob is a wooded hill with a beautiful view; the Gobbler’s Knob in the movie is moved to the town square.  The Punxsutawney Gobbler’s Knob was recreated to scale in Woodstock’s town square based on detailed notes and videos the crew made on it’s visit to Punxsutawney.

The movie’s script was changed to include the elaborate ceremony of the Inner Circle on Groundhog Day.  The original groundhog cast for the movie was considered to be too small.

Some of the store names in Punxsutawney were used in the movie, such as The Smart Shop and Stewart’s Drug Store.  Punxsutawney’s police cars were also recreated for the movie.  The groundhog-head trash cans and Groundhog Festival flags that line the streets of Punxsutawney were displayed.  Folks traveling to Punxsutawney to see the “Punxsutawney” they saw in the movie wonder why it looks “so different, yet seems so similar.”

 

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