Balzac Billy predicts winter is here to stay

On Feb 2, Alberta’s Balzac Billy emerged from his burrow to tell the crowd of bystanders they needn’t put their shovels away because winter is here to stay, and he’s not alone

  • Feb. 4, 2009 4:00 p.m.

On Feb 2, Alberta’s Balzac Billy emerged from his burrow to tell the crowd of bystanders they needn’t put their shovels away because winter is here to stay, and he’s not alone.

A slew of other popular rodents including Manitoba’s Brandon Bob, Ontario’s Wiarton Willie, Nova Scotia’s Shubenacadie Sam and Pennsylvania’s Punxsutawney Phil, agree.

Celebrations in these locations vary, but why do people dressed in tuxedos and crowds of often impressive numbers still gather to see whether or not the semi cute little creatures will see their shadows or not?

One answer is the release of the highly successful 1993 film staring Bill Murray titled “Groundhog Day.” The Groundhog Day that followed drew record crowds to Gobbler’s Knob in Pennsylvania where the day is said to have originated. That’s where the other answer comes in.

In pre-Christian times, Feb. 2 marked the festival of lights – a day to celebrate the coming of the sun roughly six weeks prior to the vernal equinox or traditional beginning of spring. A traditional Christian festival called Candlemas Day commemorates the ritual purification of Mary forty days after the birth of Jesus is celebrated on Feb. 2 as well. It is said that the year’s supply of candles for the church were blessed and that night people would place the candles in the window of their home in the dark of winter in recognition of the light Jesus brought to the human race.

Germans traditionally celebrated Hedgehog Day, which corresponded with Candlemas Day. It was said that if a hibernating animal casts a shadow, winter would last an additional six weeks and if no shadow was seen, spring would come early. Pennsylvania’s earliest settlers were Germans who brought the tradition with them. Since hedgehogs are not indigenous to North America, they decided to use the groundhog in its place. In 1886, the editor of the “Punxsutawney Spirit” wrote an article about a group of friends who went searching for groundhogs in the woods every Feb. 2 in celebration of German tradition and one year later, Feb. 2 became an official day.

While some people take groundhog predictions very seriously even though studies show their predictions are only correct 37 per cent of the time, here’s hoping the recent bout of unseasonably mild spring like weather is here to stay whether there was a shadow or not.