What is it with all of these groundhogs in Pennsylvania trying to predict the weather? I grew up in Ontario, Canada, where we had Wiarton Willie. He would predict the weather for us and that was nice! We lived in a different country, the weather in Wiarton was different than that of Punxsutawney, so we needed our own groundhog. As I grew up and discovered more groundhogs in other provinces and other states, I thought it cheapened the original.
Just yesterday my mother-in-law told me about the groundhog in Lancaster, PA. I corrected her that it’s Punxsutawney. She insisted that it was Lancaster saying that the news was reporting about an upcoming Groundhog Day in Lancaster County. My wife promptly looked online discovering that Quarryville did indeed have its own Groundhog whose name is Octoraro Orphie. Not only that but so did Dover in York County, Mount Joy, Lebanon County, Schuylkill County, and that’s just in Central Pennsylvania! It’s one thing for other states to have their own groundhog like, but possibly dozens within our own state? All I could think about was how depressing this was.
This doesn’t just take away from the glory that is Gobblers Knob at dawn, but it shows a complete lack of imagination! All these towns are just trying to copy Punxsutawney. It reminded me of when I lived in Toronto, a truly world class city. Its greatest flaw was that it kept trying to be like New York. I believe that desire held Toronto back. Montreal, on the other hand, has always the better city because it found its own identity, its own soul.
The same problem is happening here. All of these towns looking for tourist dollars shouldn’t try to be Punxsutawney. They’ll never be Punxsutawney. A few year's ago, my wife, daughter and I spent Groundhog's Day in Punxsutawney. It is is one of my most treasured experiences. The schools were closed. The whole town participated in the celebration. School buses shuttled visitors from the main town to Gobblers Knob, taking loops around town so you could see all of the attractions. Walking around, large sculptures of Phil surrounded the town. Endless places offered breakfast making it easy to eat as many pancake breakfasts as one can. Harold Ramis 1993 comedy, Groundhog Day, is played on what seemed like every television and projector screen. Locals offer tours of the town. Punxsutawney's Groundhog Day has become such an occasion that people visit from all over the world, some even coming to get married during the festival. And true to the film, the residents are chipper, the step off the sidewalk is slush filled, and Pennsylvania Polka is played. If Punxsutawney can show us one thing, it's this- towns have the ability to be creative, and find their own “inner” groundhog.
There is a nice little town close to where I live named Dillsburg. Before they gather up their funds and acquire their own groundhog that they can pull out of a box once a year, I would like to offer a better idea (for free!). Dillsburg should be slightly more original, gather everyone in the town square, perhaps by the coffee shop, and pull a pickle out of a jar. The official can then put the pickle to his ear. Nod and announce 6 more weeks of winter or an early spring. (Or even be more original and reveal the town’s deficit for that fiscal year. That way the politicians can always shift the blame of poor management of the town's funds to the pickle. And hope for better financial news from next year’s pickle!)
We could even go back to Lancaster County and replace their groundhog with something more representative of Lancaster. Every year the townspeople, TV crews and tourists gather around and watch town officials pull a real talking Amish farmer from a box! They could jokingly pretend to listen to what the Amish farmer has to say. Laugh. Pat the farmer on the head, announce “12 more weeks 'til Dutch Wonderland opens!" Then of course, shove the Amish farmer back into the box.
The point is, that each small town has it's own flavor, it's own unique quality, that makes it stand out. Now I get that Groundhog Day is a Pennsylvania German tradition. While Punxsutawney has been celebrating since 1886* (and I know Lancaster...you've been going strong since 1908*), maybe other towns in the running for their own groundhog can find a way to make their own mark, start their own tradition. While copying another is a form of flattery, it just might behoove you to find your own voice. After all, we can only take so many conflicting groundhog predictions.
Matthew Kiskis is a filmmaker, NHL fan, and world traveler. His ability to find new food to try in any location is one of his superpowers.