What the Shadow Portends for You

Punxsutawney Phil

Groundhog Day; Punxsutawney Phil via USA Today

I grew up in Pennsylvania, and because of that, Punxsutawney Phil was a big deal. Not as big a deal as if I had lived in Punxsutawney, but a bigger deal than it is living in Arkansas.

One reason: It was Pennsylvania.

Another reason: We were so sick of snow by then, we would have given almost anything for that furry little rodent to not see his shadow.

Ever year, my family would gather for breakfast and wait to see what weather Phil would predict for the coming six weeks. And it seemed like every year, we’d offer up a collective sigh because there would be six more weeks of winter. (You may think that’s an exaggeration, but since 1887, Phil has seen his shadow 100 times, predicting an early spring only 17 times.1 We almost always shared a regretful moan over his forecast.) One year, though, it dawned on someone in my family that there’s a reason Phil always sees his shadow.

It has nothing to do with the fact that it’s February-freaking-second when they drag him out to look around. (And by the way, he looks cold, sleepy, and none-too-happy to be bothered when they do it. Would you at dawn on February 2 in Pennsylvania?)

It’s got nothing to do with climate patterns, jet streams, polar vortexes, or any other such nonsense.

It has everything to do with the fact that every single camera crew there has a spotlight pointed at the poor creature. Of course he sees his shadow.

The tradition is darling, and I, like the rest of Pennsylvania and perhaps much of the rest of the country, will look forward to it for years to come. But I do not now, nor will I ever, put my trust in Phil’s predictions. There is the aforementioned built-in media bias (gee, that’s unheard of in this country) and more to the point, six weeks doesn’t quite get us out of the cold, anyway. I’ll just keep watching the meteorologists for the forecasts (because we all know they’re infallible) and wait for spring like everyone else.

Hopefully when my kids have their first tennis match in May, it won’t be snowing like last year. (Who ever heard of snow in May? In Arkansas?)

It snowed here yesterday. Again. The kids are off school. Again. And Phil is back in his cozy little nest (again), waiting for spring, which hopefully is just six weeks away. My family can wait out six weeks. We have each other. Thank God we get along. Because sometimes I think we might not dig our way out to civilization any time soon.

Hey writers… are there any traditions you can incorporate into your WIP? Ones rooted in historical lore like Groundhog Day?

Groundhog Day Fun Facts

  • It actually began as a Pennsylvania German custom in Pennsylvania in the 18th and 19th centuries.2
  • It originated in ancient European weather lore, where either a badger or sacred bear foretold the coming weather.2
  • The holiday also resembles the Pagan festival of Imbolc, which is celebrated on February 1 when the Celtic calendar moves from winter to spring.2
  • Another origin of the festival is the ancient celebration of Candlemas, the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, according to the climate center.1

If Candlemas be fair and bright,

Winter has another flight.

If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,

Winter will not come again.1

Think about traditions in your family, customs in your hometown, rituals in your faith. Perhaps there are conventions or beliefs that you can work into your WIP that will help enrich your characters or your town histories.

Do you have any interesting traditions to share? We’d love to hear all about them.

1 wikipedia

2 USA Today

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10 Responses to What the Shadow Portends for You

  1. P. C. Zick says:

    When I was a reporter in Florida I wrote a story about Phil, and of course, Groundhog Day is one of my favorite movies. You pose an interesting question and challenge. I think presenting a tradition in a novel could be a great vehicle in the structure of the plot. I’m going to think more about this suggestion.

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  2. So maybe we should let the groundhog sleep in. Pull the camera man out of his nice warm bed which means he might be naked, or not. Then pop a flash at him and see what he predicts. Coffee anyone? I’m ready for Spring! Or at least no snow. 70′s would be nice. Is that asking for too much?

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  3. I was watching the video yesterday of Punxatawney Phil and I immediately thought–he’s going to see his shadow because of all the lights shining on him! The groundhog in New York was so unhappy about being pulled out of his habitat that he jumped out of the mayors hands. I try to weave some of my family traditions or personal traditions into my writing. In my mystery novel, Murder By Text, there’s a reference to eating popcorn with plain M&Ms mixed in–something my family loved to do when we’d have movie night at home.

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    • Staci Troilo says:

      That’s so funny that people (like my family) blame the lights on the prediction. Those poor groundhogs! Kelly, I think its great that you put your M&M/popcorn tradition in your book. That little extra detail not only enriches the text for all readers, but it makes the novel even extra special for the people who know you. It’s kind of like when Carol Burnett used to pull her earlobe to tell her family she loved them. Those secret shout-outs aren’t just black and white–they’re gold.

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  4. Joy Keeney says:

    I wouldn’t blame Phil if he up and decided to stay in next year…why bother coming out…we all know winter is going stick around for a while. I mean look at yesterday here in Arkansas…we didn’t need to drag a groundhog out of his nice warm burrow to tell us winter is sticking around. The 6+ inches of snow said it loud and clear and if someone didn’t understand they will tomorrow when the next batch of it stops in. So ready for Spring!!

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    • Staci Troilo says:

      Spring? I’m ready for summer. I look out my patio door and my swimming pool mocks me. I’m beginning to wonder if I’ll ever get to use it again. When we moved south, everyone told me I’d enjoy the mild winters. This one hasn’t exactly lived up to its billing. But there’s nothing I can do about it, I guess. So I’ll just have to do what the rest of the country is doing… keep shoveling out and look forward the six weeks ending quickly. (Please just be six weeks, oh, please just be six weeks…) Thanks for sharing, Joy. Stay warm today. And tomorrow. And…

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  5. Living In Pennsylvania, I grew up with the groundhog. It’s a fun tradition, but Phil usually predicts winter; although we take what Phil has to say with a grain of salt, because as we all know, meterology is not an exact science.

    Our family has several taditions and all of them involve celebrations and food. I love using my family traditions in my writing. They make for many interesting situations and are close to the heart. It makes writing a bit easier because it’s something familiar.

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