Just in case there are still a few of you out there who actually believe that a groundhog’s shadow determines the weather, I’m about to crush your world. Sorry?
Groundhog Day is a holiday celebrated in the US and Canada on 2 February every year to commemorate the lengthening or abbreviation of winter weather as determined by a groundhog seeing (or not seeing, respectively) its own shadow.
Sounds scientific doesn’t it? Amazingly, it’s not at all.
I know. Try to hold back your tears.
The deal is, if an arbitrarily chosen rodent sees it’s shadow and retreats to its burrow, winter weather will last for, specifically, 6 extra weeks. Alas, it’s the Earth’s axis position in relation to the sun as we orbit that determines the seasons – in addition to other factors such as pollution, the solar sunspot cycle, etc – regardless of rodent shadows. Ooh I gave it away in the first few paragraphs. I gotta stop doing that. Oh well, there’s more good stuff below.
The most famous of these celebrations, depicted in the aptly named Groundhog Day movie, takes place in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. [Note: It is not recommended that you act like a huge asshole in hopes that you can live 2 Feb over and over again until you get it right. My spidey sense tells me that violates the laws of the universe. So you’ll just end up pissing off a lot of people. Just a heads up.] Like most North American holidays, it’s a secular bastardization of a religious holiday. As opposed to a religious bastardization of a pagan holiday that was later bastardized into a secular holiday. That holiday is called Candlemas and celebrates something boring about Jesus.
The first day of spring falls around 6 weeks after Groundhog Day. So if Groundy McGroundhog saw his shadow there would be 6 more weeks of winter (which there would be anyway) and if he didn’t there would be 6 less weeks of winter through some kind of nonsense logic that the opposite action of the groundhog should necessarily mean the opposite result of the weather – a kind of unfunny folk humor that we’ve turned into a nonsense holiday.
Punxsutawney Phil, for example (there are many “famous” Groundhog Day groundhogs, but seeing as I already brought up Punxsutawney…), has made predictions as recently as 2008. The accuracy rate of Groundhog Day predictions is pegged at about 37% (i.e., chance) over around the last 100 years, although towns where this is a big tourist attraction obviously inflate that number to a ridiculous 75-90%. Wait. Something seems a little off about this. What could it be?
Oh I know. The average lifespan of a groundhog is 4-5 years. So although the people of Punxsutawney would love you to believe there’s one Phil and he’s like 100 years old, no dice. Or they have a magic groundhog. Possibly from space. We should examine it… Anyway, there’s probably been like 20 Phil’s instead of one really, really old one.
So groundhogs make terrible barometers. What exactly is the point of this holiday? If not accuracy or purpose, than what? Fun? What is fun about believing in something that’s blatantly wrong? Let’s go through this step by step.
1. Do groundhogs have magic powers? No.
2. Can a groundhog (or any other animal) have an impact on or “predict” the weather simply by observing its shadow or not? No.
3. Can the groundhog, upon observance (or not) of his shadow, communicate his interpretations clearly to the gaping humans? No.
4. Can his reaction to his shadow be objectively interpreted? No.
5. Even if we can believe that there was once a groundhog with magic powers and his behaviour was interpretable to 100% accuracy, is it likely that multiple groundhogs in multiple cities across North America for 100 years have the same power to “predict” the weather? No (see #1).
6. Is believing in nonsense generally a good idea for any reason? No.
So if you live in one of those towns and it’s an excuse for community gatherings and parties. Fine, whatever. But please don’t tell your kids nonsense about how a groundhog predicts the weather (like adults did when I was a kid) and have them believe in nonsense for no good reason. Unless you’re doing some sort of weird test to “improve their critical thinking skills”, which is stupid because why not just teach them to think critically rather than play cruel mind games with them?
Now, enough holiday skepticism. I’m off to plan my day off work! What? We don’t do that for this one? Ok, fine. Off to open some traditional Groundhog Day presents! We don’t do that either? Well, balls! Fine then, off for some traditional – um, sorry? So there are no Groundhog Day traditions other than the rodent thing and whatever they do in places like Punkybrewster, Pennsylvania? This holiday is fucking useless.