Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania is the home to Punxsutawney Phil, the well-known, weather predicting groundhog. Each year, on February 2nd, hoards of tourists, townsfolk, and media flock to Punxsutawney, specifically Gobbler's Knob, for the grand forecasting event.
Groundhogs are one of the few animals that truly hibernate during the winter. Hibernation is more than sleep. It's a coma-like state in which the animal's body temperature drops to a few degrees above freezing. Its heart barely beats, its blood hardly flows, and its breathing nearly stops. Thus, I feel sorry for furry Phil.
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How would you like to be grabbed by the scruff of the neck, and yanked out of a deep, deep "sleep?" No wonder Punxsutawney Phil looks petrified when he is pulled from his burrow every February 2nd, and held up before the masses for a photo-op! How would you feel if someone flashed a camera in your face first thing in the morning?
Oh! The things we do in the name of tradition!
Groundhog Day is a long-standing tradition, indeed. It is derived from the Candlemas Day observance of Pennsylvania's earliest settlers. Candlemas Day, or the Christian Festival of Lights, was an ancient celebration that marked the midpoint of winter. On Candlemas Day, all the candles that would be used in church during the ensuing year were blessed, and it was believed that the day's weather foretold the conditions for the remainder of the winter. A sunny, bright day meant more winter; a cloudy, wet day signaled the end of winter's fury. Somehow, through the ages, the candles of Candlemas Day were replaced by the groundhog on Groundhog Day. Go figure.
According to Punxsutawney officials, Punxsutawney Phil is "the only true weather forecasting groundhog – all others are imposters." (Tell that to Staten Island Chuck!) Phil, they claim, has been predicting the weather for over 120 years (his first prediction took place on February 2, 1887, when he was known as Br'er Groundhog). He owes his longevity, you see, from drinking the "elixir of life," a secret recipe he sips every summer. While his human fans can't partake of this "elixir," they can bake "Groundhog Cookies" instead.
Fun stuff! But I still think they should reach into that faux-tree trunk each year, and pull out a stuffed animal, rather than interrupt Punxsutawney Phil's natural hibernation. "Stuffy" could predict the weather as well as poor Phil. After-all, as the ancient Candlemas poem says, "For as the sun shines on Candlemas Day, so far will the snow swirl in May."
If you would like to celebrate Groundhog's Day by baking Groundhog Cookies, here's the recipe, courtesy of www.groundhog.org, the "official website of Punxsutawney Phil.
2 cups sifted flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 cup soft butter
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup molasses
1 egg yolk
1 egg, slightly beaten
Currants or raisins
Sift together first seven ingredients. Set aside. Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Blend in molasses and yolk. Stir in flour mixture and mix well. Form into a ball.
Wrap in plastic wrap. Chill overnight, several nights or freeze.
Place small amounts of dough on a sheet of plastic wrap, and cover with plastic wrap. Roll 1/8 inch thick. Cut out cookies with lightly floured cutter.
Place cookies on greased baking sheet. Brush with slightly beaten egg. Decorate with currants or raisin eyes. Repeat until all dough is used.
Bake 8 to 10 minutes in a preheated 350-degree oven. Cool slightly before removing from cookie sheet. Makes 72 or more medium-sized groundhogs.