Phil’s Family Affair
Published on February 11, 2022, at 10:56 a.m.
by Sophie Gregor.
Annually, on Feb. 2, a furry guest makes his special appearance. Punxsutawney Phil, the star of Groundhog Day, has been a part of a meteorologist tradition since 1887. It is believed that Punxsutawney Phil predicts the weather for the next six weeks based on if he sees his shadow or not. If Phil sees his shadow, it means six more weeks of winter. If he does not see his shadow, it means an early spring is coming. This tradition originally started in Germany with hedgehogs and eventually made its way to Pennsylvania where groundhogs were used instead.
Over the course of many years, Groundhog Day has gained mass popularity and importance. Thousands of people gather around Punxsutawney Phil’s burrow to catch a glimpse of the rodent celebrity. Television stations change their regularly scheduled programs to promote the results of Groundhog Day. Companies create a multitude of merchandise available for purchase, which is highly sought after. There’s even a fan club, titled The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, available for members to join and share their devotion to Phil.
Despite Punxsutawney Phil being the most popular groundhog, he is not the only one to exist. Other states in the U.S. have their own weather-predicting rodents, such as Staten Island Chuck, Dunkirk Dave and Milltown Mel. These groundhogs, although from small towns, have created tourism in places that most people typically do not know about.
Groundhog lovers in New Jersey were absolutely devastated when beloved Milltown Mel died only days before his big appearance this year. According to a post on Mel’s Facebook page, “We will work hard on getting us a new weather prognosticator for next year, till then please check out what all of Mel’s cousins have to say on Feb. 2.” Many articles were published quickly after Milltown Mel’s passing, and the readers, although saddened by the terrible news, are curious about who will replace him.
Critics of this tradition believe that keeping Punxsutawney Phil and his relatives captive is unethical and against animal rights. PETA published an article explaining why the use of a groundhog should be eliminated and suggested other ways to celebrate the holiday instead. Groundhogs are shy animals and tend to become stressed when surrounded by large crowds. Alternatives include counting down the days until the spring equinox or keeping track of the weather each day until a pattern emerges.
Punxsutawney Phil recently saw his shadow, which means six more weeks of hibernation for him, and unfortunately six more weeks of winter for us. Although it is entertaining to follow along with Phil’s predictions, he is not always accurate. As stated on The Philadelphia Inquirer website, “Over the last 10 years, Phil has been accurate 40% of the time according to NOAA, nailing his prediction in 2020, 2016, 2014 and 2013.” This prediction percentage means that there could be hope for us that spring will come early, unless Phil is able to nail his 2022 prediction as well.
Organizers and followers of Groundhog Day find enjoyment in continuing the tradition of Punxsutawney Phil. Due to the popularity of Groundhog Day, it is unlikely that this tradition will alter its forms of celebration, but there is hope for an increase in awareness of how to properly treat Punxsutawney Phil and all of his relatives.