COLUMBIA, S.C. —South Carolinians will still be watching Punxsutawney Phil on Groundhog Day to see if he predicts an early spring, even though the state seems to be experiencing an early spring already.
USC students were all over the Horseshoe Wednesday afternoon, just as they are during the spring. Senior Kelsey Sullivan was enjoying the sunshine and a temperature in the 70s, but says she’ll be watching Punxsutawney Phil anyway. “See, the thing is I just took home all of my sweaters, so I think it’s going to get really cold, just to, like, spite me,” she says. She’s hoping Phil does not forecast six more weeks of winter. One of the reasons she chose USC was to get away from the winters in her home in New York.
But she doesn’t have to worry about Phil’s prediction anyway. The Groundhog Day tradition of Punxsutawney Phil goes back to 1887, and from then until 2016 he’s been correct only 39 percent of the time.
Melissa Rice was at a playground with her five-year-old son Wednesday, also enjoying the spring-like weather. “It was snowing, what, two weeks ago? Something like that. And we had winter storms all over the country, and now we’re wearing shorts and t-shirts in Columbia,” she says.
The Groundhog Day tradition is traced back to an ancient Christian celebration known as Candlemas Day. It marked the midpoint between the winter solstice and spring equinox.
According to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club’s website, on Candlemas Day, clergy would bless candles needed for the winter and hand them out. From that arose a superstition that if the day was sunny and clear, there would be a long winter, but if the sky was cloudy on that day, warm weather would be there sooner than usual.
The Germans then added a hedgehog to the tradition. They believed that if the hedgehog saw his shadow there would be six more weeks of bad weather. Many of Pennsylvania’s early settlers were German. They brought the tradition to the U.S. but switched the hedgehog to a groundhog, since they were easier to find in the area.
Kelsey Sullivan says, “You’ve gotta pay attention, ’cause you want to know if winter’s staying or going. But that’s about it. Plus the little groundhog’s kinda cute.”