This morning, America's most famous rodent confirmed what this winter has already made abundantly clear: spring is coming early. Punxsutawney Phil emerged from his home on Gobbler's Knob for the annual Groundhog Day celebration in Punxsatawney, Pennsylvania, failed to see his shadow and thus "predicted" an early spring (Staten Island's groundhog, Chuck, also predicted an early end to the cold).
This winter has been pretty mild across the country, especially compared to the two years prior. Phil did see his shadow each of the last two years, so there might be something to his prediction, but let's not go and get ahead of ourselves. Groundhog Day might be one of the country's most embarrassing pastimes: Millions of people across the country watch a group of Pennsylvania men wearing top hats and tuxedos pretend to communicate with a giant squirrel.
The country has recognized the day since 1887, but its history is a lot deeper than rodent whispering. The first week of February marks the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, and the Gaelics honor the milestone with a festival called Imbolc that actually acknowledges how seasons work. February 2 is also the Christian holiday of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple (also known as Candlemas). In the U.K., good weather on the day is culturally considered to be an omen of bad weather later in the season, which is basically the same gist as the American tradition—you know, because sunshine tends to produce a shadow.
We just added a Groundhog.
But don't be too quick to scoff at Groundhog Day, though. If Bill Murray's Phil Connors taught us anything in the film named after the holiday, it's that slandering the tradition can throw you into a time loop that will give you temporary immortality, forcing you to come to terms with your own existence (which actually doesn't sound too bad).