Groundhog Day: Which winter-predicting groundhog will you choose?
There's Staten Island Chuck. Woodstock Willie. And, of course, everyone knows Punxsutawney Phil, right?
This year, you'll have plenty of prognosticating groundhogs -- as well as a seemingly endless array of events -- from which to choose to celebrate this important "holiday."
For the uninitiated: Groundhog Day occurs on Feb. 2 each year, when legend has it that groundhogs venture from their dens to check on the weather -- and tell humans what to expect. (No less an authority than Groundhog.org says this tradition dates back centuries, when people looked to animals for certain signs and signals because they believed animals were imbued with otherworldly powers.)
Oddly enough, bad weather on Groundhog Day is better than good weather.
If the groundhog ventures from its den and sees a shadow -- and you need sunshine for a shadow -- that's a sign we're in for six more weeks of harsh winter weather. But if the critter emerges from its den and sees no shadow (because it's a cloudy day), that means we can look forward to a mercifully short winter.
In recent years, hoopla over Groundhog Day has grown steadily, in no small part because of the 1992 hit movie "Groundhog Day." The film, now celebrating its 20th year, starred Bill Murray as a full-of-himself TV journalist condemned to live Groundhog Day over and over until he gets it right.
Communities across the country now try to get in on the fun -- and the tourist dollar -- by staging elaborate Groundhog Day festivals that involve general merriment and official-looking men in long black coats and top hats.
Punxsutawney Phil, above, is the most famous of the prognosticating groundhogs -- both because Punxsutawney, Penn., has been holding such observances for 126 years and because of Phil's named role in the film "Groundhog Day."
The community goes all out in a bid for those tourist dollars and because it's just plain fun, offering more than 80 events. Among them: weddings, the crowning of Little Mr. and Miss Groundhog, an Oreo-stacking contest and, of course, Thursday's 126th annual trek to Gobbler's Knob for Punxsutawney's official prediction at 7:25 a.m.
"Groundhog Day" was not shot in Punxsutawney, although that's what viewers are led to believe. Filmmaker Harold Ramis chose Woodstock, Ill., as the backdrop because of its charming town square, which serves as the centerpiece of the movie.
That led Woodstock to roll out its own annual festival featuring Woodstock Willie. (We don't want to stir up groundhog trouble, but we can't help but notice that Woodstock Willie is making an unusual Wednesday night appearance, and will be making his prognostication at 7 a.m.on Thursday. Is Woodstock Willie trying to get the jump on Punxsutawney Phil?)
And then there's Staten Island Chuck, who resides at the Staten Island Zoo. He's a feisty one, as evidenced by the time he bit Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who was officiating at a Groundhog Day observance.
The Staten Island Zoo claims that Chuck has correctly predicted the duration of winter 80% of the time since the 1980s.
-- Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch
Photo: Punxsutawney Phil, the weather-predicting groundhog, stands on the shoulder of one of his handlers, John Griffiths, at last year's Groundhog Day ceremony. Credit: Keith Srakocic/Associated Press