I was not aware of Groundhog Day until my son, a kindergartener1, brought a groundhog paper puppet on a Popsicle stick2, which he had made at school on February 2. The Popsicle stick was moved up and down through a hole in the bottom of a paper cup. It allowed the groundhog either to hide3 in the cup or get out of it. I thought it was a clever craft idea, which represented a groundhog coming out of his hole after winter hibernation, to look for his shadow4.
According to Canadian and American traditions, a groundhog foretells5 six weeks of bad weather if he sees his shadow on February 2. Once he sees his shadow, he goes back to his hole in expectation of more bad weather. If he can’t see his shadow, because of the clouds, spring is near and the groundhog stays above ground. German settlers who adopted the groundhog as their weather predicator6 brought this belief to America during the eighteenth century. There has been a yearly festival in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, since the late eighteen hundreds, in which a groundhog named Punxsutawney Phil foretells how much longer winter will last.
After learning about the groundhog tradition, my husband coincidentally rented the romantic comedy “Groundhog Day” starring Bill Murray -TV weatherman Phil Connors who is sent to Punxsutawney to cover the annual Groundhog Day. He is caught in a blizzard7 that he fails to predict and has to spend the night in a small town hotel. He has a dream where he wakes up over and over again on Groundhog Day. It was kind of a cute and refreshing movie, which makes you realize how desperate one can get when life repeats over and over in one day, especially if it is not a pleasant one.
How could I have not noticed Groundhog Day in seven years of living in the USA? One reason is probably the fact that Groundhog Day is not usually marked on calendars. In addition, on the coast of Southern California, we do not worry when winter will be over. Winter is a pleasant season with average temperatures during the day of 60 degrees of Fahrenheit.
Since I do not remember details about groundhogs from my zoology class, I looked in Collier’s encyclopedia to learn more about them. The groundhog is better known as the woodchuck and belongs to the group of rodents8. It is a heavy-bodied, short-legged animal with short ears and a flattened9 head. An average groundhog is about 20 inches long and weighs about 5-10 pounds. Its home is an underground den10. It mates11 in February or March. Four or five young are born four weeks later. By July, the family breaks up, each member going its own way. In early fall12, fattened through summer feeding, the groundhog enters its winter sleep. The longer the sleep, the slower is the respiration. The body temperature is lowered until the pulse is faint13. The animal is at that time in hibernation, a profound sleep in which it can neither feel nor hear. To awaken it would take several hours in a very warm place.
I think the biology of the hibernation process has a close connection with weather. It might be the reason people in the olden14 days established the Groundhog Day tradition. However, the groundhog prediction might not always be very reliable.
Jarmila F. Nguyen
Vocabulary: 1škôlkár; 2bábku – loutku na paličke od lízatka; 3skryť sa; 4aby hľadal svoj tieň – stín; 5predpovedá; 6toho, kt. predpovedá počasie; 7 uviazne v snehovej búrke; 8hlodavcov; 9sploštenou; 10brloh – doupě; 11pári sa; 12skoro na jeseň- na podzim; 13slabý; 14dávnych