American History02 Feb 2011 06:59 pm
Groundhog Day is a holiday celebrated on February 2nd in the United States and Canada. According to folklore, if it is cloudy when a groundhog emerges from its burrow on this day, it will leave the burrow, signifying that winter will soon end. If it is sunny, the groundhog will supposedly see its shadow and retreat back into its burrow, and winter will continue for six more weeks.
Actually, Groundhog Day grew out of the Pennsylvania Dutch custom of Fersommling, a Pennsylvania Dutch social event in which food is served, speeches are made and one or more g’spiel (play) is performed. The Pennsylvania tradition grew out of the ancient European weather lore where a badger was the prognosticator. The holiday also bears some similarities to the medieval Catholic holiday of Candlemas (February 2) and it also bears similarities to the Pagan festival of Imbolc, the seasonal turning point of the Celtic calendar, which is celebrated on February 1 and involves weather prognostication.
This event is typically attended by the Fancy Dutch as opposed to the “Plain sects” of the Amish, Dunkards and Mennonites. Only German or Deutsch is spoken and those speaking English pay a penalty, usually a nickel, dime or quarter, per word spoken, put into a bowl in the center of the table. Another tradition is the singing of “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee”, in Pennsylvania German. There also are lots of Pennsylvania German conversation and even more food – ham, chicken, potato filling, pie and other traditional goodies.
Fersommlinge continue to be held throughout eastern Pennsylvania as a means of preserving the Pennsylvania German dialect and culture. For example, the Berks County Fersommling, which started in 1937, annually attracts more than 700 participants, most of whom are of Pennsylvania German ancestry.
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