I wouldn’t regularly pay homage to a rodent, but like everyone else who gets tired of winter, I’m willing to worship at the altar of Punxsutawney Phil if it means six less weeks of the white stuff. So I made the trek to Punxsutawney, PA, to celebrate Groundhog Day, and it was a lot more than what I expected.
Certainly, there’s a lot to be said for standing with about 32,000 of your closest friends (bonding happens pretty quickly when you need to share body heat) at dawn on a beyond-frigid February morning waiting to see if Phil sees his shadow. But that’s only one part of the celebration.
On the day itself, Feb. 2, festivities begin around 5 a.m. with fireworks, which is a rather startling way to wake up. But it does help you get in the spirit of things—and people really do go all out. Looking around the crowd, I spotted Phil’s fans in full regalia, from fake-fur groundhog hats to full-body whistle pig finery. And while it might not be everyone’s idea of a fashion statement, when you’re standing in negative temperatures, being covered in a large furry marmot suit might make you the smartest one in the crowd.
Only the Shadow Knows
Everyone waits for the sun to rise to see if Phil (who seems a little grouchy to be awakened—and who can blame him?) sees his shadow, which will mean six more weeks of winter. The year I did the trek up to Gobbler’s Knob was a good one—he didn’t see his shadow, which meant that winter was coming to an end. I’m pretty sure that the cheering could be heard across the state—and the news definitely made it around the world, since Phil’s yearly appearance receives coverage from global media.
While everyone who watches TV that morning is pretty familiar with that 10-second soundbite, in which Phil and his tuxedo-and-top-hatted inner circle is feted by thousands, there’s much more that you don’t see, unless you happen to be on-site. The Groundhog Eve Banquet, a somewhat-formal event (during which the town turns out in everything from jeans to fancy dresses) is held the night before, and often features a fairly well-known celebrity; past guests have included Jim Cantore from The Weather Channel and Danny Rubin, the screenwriter behind the movie Groundhog Day. An outdoor festival in Barclay Square and a groundhog souvenir sale in the historic Panthall Hotel ensure that you can stock up on all things woodchuck (yes, they are the same animal), or you can visit the Groundhog Wine Trail Festival to sample local wares. A costume contest is held for pets, and there is even a special marriage ceremony performed by Punxsutawney’s mayor, for couples who want to mark their special day on this very special occasion.
What I especially liked was getting to meet many of the visitors at the pancake breakfast at the Elks Lodge, which was one of many offered by organizations around town. At my table alone, there were folks visiting from Japan, Australia and four different states, which made for very interesting early-morning conversation. Despite the fact that Punxsy is only a town of 6,000 people, they go out of their way to welcome everyone, which is probably why this ‘Weather Capital of the World’ is now celebrating its 130th year of hosting the annual event.
Speaking of, if you’re wandering around town checking out the historic homes, or looking for something to do after a hayride town tour (bundle up for that!), stop into the Punxsutawney Weather Discovery Center, located in the town’s former post office. There, you can step into the role of a real-life meteorologist at its AccuWeather Green Screen Forecast Station and attempt to explain the weather. Trust me, they make it look a lot easier on TV.
The Other 364 Days
Even if you don’t make it to Punxsy for this specific celebration, you can still see the regal rodent year-round. Phil’s burrow is located in the Civic Center Complex downtown, where visitors can view him through a window (don’t expect a lot of action—turns out, groundhogs sleep a lot). You can also pose near any of the 32 six-foot-tall Phantastic Phil statues that have been designed by artists from across the state, or shop in any of the many groundhog souvenir shops that cater to those felled by marmot mania.
Hotel rooms do fill up fast for this event, but there are a lot of options in nearby Dubois, which also has a wealth of dining choices for those looking to get away from the crowd. It’s well worth the trip to see the prognosticator of prognosticators in action—and I predict that you’ll have a very good time.
Do you believe that a rodent can really predict the weather?
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