Feb 1, 2016

Morne Monday

morne ~ dismal; gloomy; sombre

Can you believe it's February already? Of course normally February is considered one of the coldest months of the year. Normally. This winter has been far from normal however. The temperature at midnight last night was +8 Celsius, which is +46 for those of you using Fahrenheit. Hardly weather to bundle up in.

No snow, just gloomy weather - overcast skies and plenty of rain. Both December and January had a disproportionate number of days without sun, and if the long range forecast is to be believed, February is going to be much the same. I don't think we need a groundhog to predict an early spring.

But speaking of groundhogs . . . there was a sad piece of news on the weather network when I was checking the forecast earlier. Winnipeg Willow, Winnipeg's resident groundhog, passed away suddenly a couple of days ago. There's no word of a replacement, but Manitoba Merv and Brandon Bob will carry on as usual.

Have you ever wondered how we came to depend on a groundhog to predict when spring will arrive? I did, so I did some research. ;-)

Of course you're familiar with the tradition: on February 2, the groundhog emerges from his burrow. If he sees his shadow then we'll have six more weeks of winter. If he doesn't see his shadow then we'll only have four more weeks of winter.

The actual prediction had nothing to do with rodents. Early Christians had the tradition of Candlemas on February 2, where the clergy blessed candles and distributed them to the people. There was a rhyme that went:
If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Come, Winter, have another flight;
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Go Winter, and come not again.

It was the Germans who came up with the idea that if a hedgehog cast a shadow on Candlemas there would be six more weeks of winter. When some of these Germans settled in Pennsylvania, they brought the tradition with them, replacing the hedgehog with the native to America groundhog.

By far the most famous groundhog is Punxsutawney Phil, who started making his appearance in 1886. Yes, that would make him 130 years old, but his website claims he has a magic elixir that keeps him young. But let's not forget the likes of Dunkirk Dave, Balzac Billy, Chattanooga Chuck, Manitoba Merv, Shubenacadie Sam, Susquehanna Sherman, and my personal favorite, Wiarton Willie.

But further research shows that a few of these groundhogs have a dark side. Punxsutawney Phil, for instance, threatened 60 more weeks of winter during Prohibition if he wasn't given some booze. General Beauregard Lee, the Atlanta based groundhog, has had an ongoing feud with Phil over accuracy. Staten Island Chuck bit former mayor Michael Bloomberg right through the glove he was wearing. And Wiarton Willie was the victim of a fake funeral.

Apparently, in 1999 Willie was found dead in his burrow just before groundhog day. There was a funeral with Willie lying on display face up with pennies over his eyes, clutching a carrot. But it turns out the funeral was for a fake. The real Willie was found too badly decomposed for public display and a taxidermied groundhog was used instead. Oh, the humanity!

So . . . do you believe in the groundhog's prediction? And if so, which groundhog do you listen to?

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