Friday morning, tens of thousands of people will gather in a clearing in north central Pennsylvania before dawn.
They’ll crowd around a stump and pluck from it an immortal rodent with a secret elixir habit and a soothsayer’s abilities.
A group of men from an “inner circle,” all dressed like Mr. Monopoly, will huddle around the animal and listen to it speak a special language. They’ll translate the words onto a parchment and recite them aloud for the crowd, which will either hiss or shout the rodent’s praises, depending on what is said.
Then, everyone in Punxsutawney will go back to drinking.
This is Groundhog Day, and it is objectively the most batshit crazy thing ever conceived of by humankind. It is a fever dream come to life, and one of Pennsylvania’s proudest traditions. Here, we attempt to prove just how crazy it is.
First, some background: Groundhog Day, as we know it, was actually started by the Pennsylvania Dutch and has been observed here since at least 1887. According to History.com:
Groundhog Day has its roots in the ancient Christian tradition of Candlemas, when clergy would bless and distribute candles needed for winter. The candles represented how long and cold the winter would be. Germans expanded on this concept by selecting an animal — the hedgehog — as a means of predicting weather. Once they came to America, German settlers in Pennsylvania continued the tradition, although they switched from hedgehogs to groundhogs, which were plentiful in the Keystone State.
Since then, the holiday’s popularity has grown along with its folklore. Here’s where things get weird…
Punxsutawney Phil is either a zombie or a witch.
According to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, it’s been the same Phil for all 132 years of the tradition. Never mind that a groundhog’s average lifespan is 6 years, the secret to Phil’s longevity lies in a magical elixir — dubbed “Groundhog Punch” — that’s fed to Phil every summer.
Phil’s entourage speaks Groundhogese.
Phil is cared for year-round by a group of 15 tuxedoed men, members of his inner circle. They communicate with him in a proprietary language known as “Groundhogese.” (A search of Duolingo turned up no such tutorials.)
Phil can text.
Phil will text you his forecast, because of course he will. Actually, Phil texting may be the most plausible part of this whole thing. You can sign up for the text alerts here.
Phil is married.
Phil lives with his wife, Phyllis, in a burrow at Barclay Square next to the Punxsutawney Memorial Library. Here’s to the happy couple and a thousand more years of wedded bliss.
Phil famously opposed prohibition.
During prohibition, Phil threatened to impose 60 weeks of winter if he didn’t get some booze, according to USA Today. So there’s that.
This year we’re told Phil has threatened endless winter if he doesn’t get one of those technicolored Starbucks Frappuccinos. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Fill of Phil
The first Groundhog Day celebration in 1887 involved actually eating groundhogs. The practice eventually fell out of favor, luckily for Phil — it’s unlikely his magic elixir also protects against open flames.
Phil, The Infallible
According to his team, Phil’s batting average predicting more winter or an early spring is 100 percent. Those outside his team put the success rate at closer to 65 percent, but still.
When Phil does get it irrevocably wrong, his handlers are blamed for misinterpreting his predictions. We assume the offending handler is then dealt with accordingly.
“Phil’s prediction is 100 percent correct, and we blame the variants on the [inner circle] president’s interpretation of Phil’s prediction,” retired handler Ron Ploucha told PennLive. “Because Phil’s never wrong.”
Does it even matter?
As weird as the Groundhog Day tradition may be, all traditions are bonkers.
If nothing else, this one is an ingenious publicity stunt that succeeds at drawing international attention to a town of 5,000 people in the Pennsylvania Wilds year after year.
So the whole thing is crazy, yeah, but maybe that’s the secret. Phil doesn’t care what we mortals think anyway. He knows he’ll still be tossing out predictions long after we’re gone and this winter is over. Who’s the crazy one now?
Disclaimer: No animals were harmed in the making of this article.