2016-01-27 / Editorials

The Eternal Return Of The Groundhog

We just know everyone is busily preparing themselves for Groundhog Day, the annual holiday event that takes place every February 2.

Previous to Snowmaggedon last weekend, we thought Mother Nature gave us a pass this winter. But with the second-worst snowstorm in recorded history, we are not so sure now. If you remember the winter of five years ago, we already had had 36 inches of snow by Groundhog Day, including bouts of “thunder snow.” This year we only reached a high of 34 inches in Jackson Heights. But we trudge on, glad that most of mass transit is back in service. We were lucky the storm came on the weekend, when most of us could wait it out at home.

Staten Island Chuck, the groundhog representing New York City, will give us a hint next Tuesday, when, if it is sunny, he will be scared by his shadow and head back into hibernation for another six weeks, indicating we are not yet out of the woods. Or, we hope he likes what he does not see and decides to stay awake, a harbinger that spring is just around the corner. February 2 was chosen because it is Candlemas, a Christian holiday imported by Romans to Germany, held halfway between the Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox and nicknamed “Second Winter.” So being that six weeks barely brings us to the Spring Equinox, we should not be greedy!

If the Groundhog Day custom seems a bit archaic, that’s because it is. Originating in Germany in the 16th century, and imported here by the Pennsylvania Dutch in the 19th century, it is based on observation by farmers around this time every year that badgers (not groundhogs, but close enough) in the old country, emerged, and if it was overcast, thus not casting shadows, the hungry, somnolescent rodents would decide it was time to come out and look for food and a mate. In Pennsylvania, the custom was adapted using other rodents more common to the area: groundhogs, aka woodchucks, aka whistle pigs. That is one reason Punxsutawney Phil is Number One Groundhog, he is a native son of Pennsylvania, the first American home of the holiday. We must console ourselves with the closest star, Number Two Groundhog, Staten Island Chuck. Actually, Flushing Meadows Phil and Corona Kate, prairie dogs at the Queens Zoo did the honors until 2005. Though the event was known as Grounddog Day, prairie dogs are also rodents.

Whether the star of the movie, Groundhog Day, Punxsutawney Phil, or Staten Island Chuck yield temperate or terrible prognostications, we of course will keep our sights set on spring, when the flowers will again bloom. Just like in the movie, Groundhog Day, the Circle of Life carries on – not as in The Lion King – we are talking rodents here. In fact, the circle of life broke for at least one groundhog. In 2014 when Hizzoner Bill de Blasio did the honors, he dropped a recalcitrant Staten Island Chuck, who died a week later from internal injuries. De Blasio may have been nervous thinking about the time then-Mayor Mike Bloomberg got bit. It was in 2009, and after a tussle over a corncob with Bloomberg, the grumpy groundhog nipped him “pretty good.”

In fact, the recalcitrant rodents do not have a very good record for accurate predictions. Yes, some scientist actually investigated, and found that in about 60 years, the large, sleepyheads were only correct 28 percent of the time. That is less than random chance would get in a 50/50 proposition. But perhaps they do about as well as their human counterparts, meteorologists, do. We are only kidding of course, we check the weather reports regularly and find them to be pretty accurate most of the time.

So on Tuesday, when we hear he makes his grand entrance via elevator (!) hopefully the little fella will not get dropped or nip at anyone for disturbing his peaceful, extended nap.

But regardless of whether or not we can expect six more weeks of frigid temperatures and mountains of snow to navigate at every corner, or we are at the tail-end of one of our easier winter seasons, rest assured spring indeed will sprout with the fragrant flowers, greenery and balmy temperatures we love so much – as it does each year, thus continuing the Circle of Life. Hakuna Matata to you all.

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