Groundhog Day a good introduction to legends

February 02, 2007|by LISA PREJEAN

It's easy to be amused at the sight of a groundhog. As headlights round a bend or top a hill, a surprised look seems to appear on the creature's face as he fearfully ambles away to a darker, safer place.

Being nocturnal, groundhogs like the dark. If the sun is out today when the groundhog comes out of his burrow, he'll see his shadow, become frightened and escape back to his home. This shadow scare will bring on six more weeks of winter. (Not that we've seen much winter to speak of this year.)

If today is overcast and the groundhog doesn't see his shadow, he won't be frightened and he'll stay above ground. The remainder of winter won't be severe and spring will dawn clear and balmy.

The legends associated with Groundhog Day seem ironic, don't they?

If the sun is shining, winter will be extended and harsh.

If the sun isn't shining, spring will come early and be pleasant.


Spring will come, regardless. It's on the calendar for March 21. Still, it is entertaining to think of an animal predicting the weather.

The origins of Groundhog Day go back hundreds of years to farmers in Europe. The farmers would observe animals in order to decide when to plant crops. If animals started to come out of their homes, it signaled that spring was on its way. German farmers would look for badgers to come out of their homes. English farmers waited for hedgehogs.

When farmers from those areas moved to the Eastern and Central United States, they didn't have badgers or hedgehogs to watch. They noticed a large rodent that would come out of its burrow at the end of winter. This rodent, commonly called a groundhog but also called a woodchuck or a marmot, now has the distinction of having a holiday named just for him, or her, as the case may be.

Each Feb. 2, Groundhog Day rolls around and we turn our attention to Punxsutawney, Pa., home of Punxsutawney Phil, the official groundhog prognosticator. Will Phil see his shadow? Will the men of Punxsutawney Groundhog Club wear their top hats and tuxedos as they patiently wait for Phil's prediction?

Before you dismiss all this Groundhog Day hoopla as nonsense, think of it from a child's perspective. This is exactly the type of event that attracts a child's imagination. (Perhaps that's why so many grown men are drawn to the event. They still want to have child-like fun, too.)

Think of ways that you can convert a child's enthusiasm and delight into fun teaching moments.

Talk about legends and what they mean to a group of people. Legends are stories handed down for generations that are popularly believed to have a historical basis. What other legends can you share with your child? Try King Arthur, Robin Hood or Lancelot.

Ask your child how he would predict the weather if someone asked him what spring will be like. Write down what he says and tuck it away until mid-April. Pull it out then and read it together. Was his prediction correct? If so, was it coincidence or was there a rational basis for his correct prediction? If it was incorrect, what uncertainties contributed to that?

Looking for some activities related to Groundhog Day? Visit these sites for:

· Groundhog coloring pages - ¬

· Groundhog printable maze -

· Online greetings from Punxsutawney Phil -

Some of the information for this article came from "A Holiday Book: Spring Holidays" by Sam and Beryl Epstein. I found this title at a used book store, my favorite place to shop.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. She predicts that Phil will see his shadow today. Send e-mail to her at

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