John McCormick’s Guide to Groundhog Day: a Fun Mid-winter Escape

One question plagues the winter-weary as January holds us in its icy grip:

How long, oh Lord, will winter drag on?

“Six more weeks” is the standard answer, give or take a few random snow storms in April in the Midwest.

Cabin fever or Seasonal Affective Disorder must fuel the imagination. We mingle the solstice with superstition and celebrate whatever signs and wonders human ingenuity can come up with.

Hello, Groundhog Day

If this is your year to hit the road in search of something to celebrate, try this handy little guide by Punxsutawney locals John McCormick and Beth Goldie: “A Field Guide to Groundhog Day – a vacation guide to the Punxsutawney area: Includes extensive information warm weather attractions including an elk herd, covered bridge, and more.” | Groundhog Press Inc.; 2nd edition (January 19, 2023)

A Field Guide to Groundhog Day cover by John McCormick and Beth Goldie.
A Field Guide to Groundhog Day cover by John McCormick and Beth Goldie.

“In these days of Internet-fueled cynicism it is common to look at everything as a PR event and, in the case of Groundhog Day, that is certainly true and not in any way denied,” says McCormick, honest and unabashed and in good humor.

Groundhog Day “is nothing more or less than a spring break without the nudity and booze of Florida. GHD is, above all, a FUN event,” hence, “it seemed appropriate to go ahead and publish a guide book to the town and region, especially with photos and some notes that might make a quick visit easier and more enjoyable.”

Note: This is not a comprehensive book about Ground Hog Day.

This is a handy little guide, designed to be carried on smartphones, kindles, and tablets.

“You’ll find a variety of regional attractions to justify a trip to Punxsutawney,” McCormick writes in this updated edition. “Downtown events at Barclay Square, the Groundhog Zoo, and the community center are just the start. The guide tells where to sleep (an inexpensive crash pad where you bring your own sleeping bag), where to eat, where to park, what to expect mid-Winter on a hilltop early February morning, and how to best enjoy your visit.”

At 92 pages, this ebook comes with photos, insider tips about the best restaurants, and a list of emergency numbers you may need.

The 1993 movie “Groundhog Day,” starring Bill Murray, plays continuously. To find out where, you can buy the book for five dollars. If you have Kindle Unlimited, it’s free.

Various statues of the immortal Phil adorn the town. Laska’s statues, which change with the seasons and other themes, are as legendary as their pizza:

Statues of the immortal Phil in Punxsutawney. Photo by John McCormick
Statues of the immortal Phil in Punxsutawney. Photo by John McCormick

Who Came Up With This Holiday, Anyway?

Somehow, the February 2 holy day known as Candlemas was usurped by an allegedly immortal groundhog.

Not that Americans ever made a big deal over Candlemas. It was more of a European thing, with Christians bringing candles to their churches to be blessed. At home, the candles were lit and placed in windows to ward off storms.

Groundhog Day is one of many solar holidays, McCormick writes. Festivals at the beginning of February are halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, or approximately halfway through winter.

It’s all about fun, not logic. Why not watch a small, furry mammal (in Europe, it was a badger) emerge from his burrow to prognosticate the weather?

In America, it began as a custom among the German “Dutch” community in Pennsylvania in the 1880s. It took a clever newspaper editor to launch the first Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney in 1887.

More than a century later, the party goes on every year.

This reminds me of an excellent and hilarious hoax to bring tourists to a small Florida town in Dave Barry’s forthcoming novel, Swamp Story, Pub Date 02 May 2023 | Simon & Schuster. (You’ll hear more from me on that as the release date draws near.)

Meanwhile, in real-life Pennsylvania, we have thousands of tourists who could go to Florida, or any number of warmer places. Instead, they flock to the pre-dawn darkness of a barren hilltop in Punxsutawney.

It makes perfect sense.

They come to commemorate the archaic and absurd tradition of seeing if a supposedly immortal groundhog will cast a shadow.

How Can This Be?

Everyone with a TV or newspaper has heard of Punxsutawney Phil. Nobody believes this burrowing mammal can forecast the weather. Whether or not Phil sees his shadow, we all know six more weeks of winter are in store.

It’s simple math. Winter is twelve weeks long, unless you live in Minnesota, where it drags on for six months. If winter lasts from December 21 to March 21, guess where that leaves February 2? Right in the middle! Hence, six more weeks of winter.

But who cares about facts? We are restless and eager and ready to party on.

What the Book Won’t Tell You

We love legends, the more absurd, the better.

McCormick gives us the facts, ma’am, not the myths.

The New York Post delivers the legend: the groundhog is immortal.

The same Punxsutawney Phil has been alive for 135+ years, in the local zoo.

Furthermore, Punxsutawney Phil has an “inner circle,” the movers and shakers of the town who plan events around Groundhog Day. They claim Phil can communicate using “Groundhogese” and say Phil communicates his predictions to the current president of the inner circle.

(Michelle Ganney, NYP, January 31, 2019)

All in Good Fun

While guiding visitors to Punxsutawney, McCormick and Goldie make a compelling case for living in a little college town. Why pay more to live among the madding hordes of cities?

Above all, they make the case for having fun:

Whether you come to see and enjoy fast-vanishing small-town America, just to say you’ve been, or even come to laugh at us “hick” locals, if you can’t have fun in Punxsutawney on Groundhog Day you just ain’t tryin!

Get The Book Free

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Monday, January 30, 2023, 12:00 AM PST Monday, January 31, 2023, 11:59 PM PST

A Field Guide to Groundhog Day – a vacation guide to the Punxsutawney area

free groundhog day guide

Downtown – Punxsutawney Plaza to Groundhog Zoo and Barclay Sq.