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Mike Polk Jr. takes on Groundhog Day

A look at the history and the controversy around this February tradition.

CLEVELAND — By now I’m sure you’ve heard many people compare the everyday lifestyle that we all had to adopt in the year 2020 as feeling not unlike the plot device used in the movie Groundhog Day.

It’s a fair comparison. Much like Bill Murray’s character in the classic 1993 film, to many of us, it sure did feel as though we were trapped in a cycle, forced to live the same day over and over again, confined, claustrophobic, and feeling our sanity slip slowly away as we stared into the dark abyss of infinity.

Maybe not everyone felt like that. But some of us did.  

RELATED: Groundhog Day: How many times has Punxsutawney Phil seen his shadow?

Anyways, I thought that since we’re living through Groundhog’s Day and it’s actually Groundhog’s Day, this might be a good time for me to learn where this weird holiday centered around a magical groggy rodent-meteorologist came from. Cause that is a pretty weird thing if you think about it.

It turns out that Feb. 2 is a significant day in several ancient traditions, including a Christian holiday called Candlemas. Many believed that a sunny Candlemas meant another 40 days of cold and snow. And, as you probably guessed Candlemas even had its own weather-predicting animal, that animal of course being…the gr…nope it’s a badger.

When German immigrants settled Pennsylvania in the 18th and 19th centuries, they brought the custom with them. One problem though, Pennsylvania, for all its blessings was real scarce on badgers. Lucky for them, they were swimming in groundhogs, AKA woodchucks, AKA whistle pigs, because, unbeknownst to me until this very day, they are capable of whistling. 

So the German Pennsylvanians swapped out the badger for the groundhog like the rugged pragmatists that they were and the tradition began taking hold in America.

RELATED: Punxsutawney Phil says there will be 6 more weeks of winter

Of course, the Mecca of all Groundhog Day celebrations is in Punxsutawney Pennsylvania, where as many as 30,000 people have turned out in past years to see if the most famous whistle pig in the world, Punxsutawney Phil, sees his shadow. Legend says if he does, we’re stuck with six more weeks of winter. If he doesn’t, we’ll be patio drinking by April, Baby.

But believe it or not, not EVERYONE is a huge believer in Phil’s powers. And that includes our very own Chief Meteorologist Betsy Kling. Yep, it's true. So naturally, I had to get her take.

"You know, I put so much time and effort and care in handcrafting a forecast to the best of my ability," Betsy told me. "And I literally will have people email like, well the groundhog says... will he see a shadow? Won't he see a shadow? You're basically basing a seasonal forecast off of one instance of one day that's a big no-no in the world of weather."

Now keep in mind, Betsy has visited the great town of Punxsutawney, and does have some positive thoughts:

"The really cool thing that Punxsutawney has done, and I think they did it very well, is they created an educational opportunity out of all of that. So they actually have a weather academy and uh you can go in and it's a kind of a children's museum, and you can go in and learn all about weather."

So check it out! And Happy Groundhog Day Everyone. Or Happy Badger Day... if you’re old school.

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