Update 1/23: The start time of the event has been moved back to 8:00 a.m. on Feb. 2. We have updated the article accordingly.

It’s almost time once again for Uni, the Union Canal’s resident weather-forecasting whistlepig, to take to his boat and predict the onset of spring.

The Union Kanaal Grundsau Lodsch #17, an organization of local caretakers of Pennsylvania Dutch language and culture — as well as the aforementioned whistlepig — will host their annual Groundhog Day celebration on Friday, Feb. 2, beginning at 8 a.m. at the Myerstown Recreation Park on South College St.

Union Kanaal Grundsau Lodsch #17 of Eastern Lebanon County is a group of men dedicated in preserving their Pennsylvania Dutch roots. They have hosted this event since 1981.

“Everyone is welcome to hear what Myerstown’s favorite Groundhog Uni has to say what the weather will be in the next six weeks,” Lodcsh schrewer (lodge secretary) Brian Beamesderfer said in an announcement. “Come out and celebrate Uni’s forecast.”

The Eastern Lebanon County chapter of the lodge is one of 17 located in eastern Pennsylvania.

For the local event, Lodsch #17’s stuffed mascot Uni is paraded from his local hibernation spot in town to a boat on the Tulpehocken Creek – which was once a part of the old Union Canal – to seek his shadow and to predict the coming of spring. Uni, according to lodge members, has never been wrong.

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The spring equinox this year begins at precisely 11:06 p.m. on Tuesday, March 19. Groundhogs don’t worry about such pedestrian matters as calendars, however; they’re strictly concerned with the weather. According to the lore, if a groundhog sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter, and if he doesn’t, it’s an indication that spring is around the corner.

Shadows are likely; according to the long-range forecast at Accuweather.com, Myerstown can expect Feb. 2 to be sunny and cold.

Typically, more than a hundred people line the creek banks to watch Uni’s yearly prognostication.

Some historical perspective

Groundhog Day – although observed throughout North America and popularized by the 1993 movie starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell – has deep roots in the Pennsylvania Dutch tradition.

According to an article collected by the Library of Congress for its American Folklife Center project, Groundhog Day “is celebrated in many places in the United States and Canada, with an emphasis on tongue-in-cheek humor and ceremonious proclamations. It is best known among people whose ancestors spoke German, especially the Pennsylvania Dutch.”

The holiday sprouted from an ancient European pagan holiday known as Imbolc, which was later Christianized as the feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary, the Irish feast of St. Brigid, and Candlemas. “But the tradition of predicting the weather persisted through many of the holiday’s variations,” the article notes.

“Unfortunately, we don’t know that much else about how ancient Celts celebrated Imbolc, but its importance as the first day of spring persisted to living memory,” it states. “Weather prognostication, then, became associated with the beginning of February during ancient times, and the tradition persists until today. But this still leaves us in the dark as to the groundhog and his role in the process!”

In Europe, notably, the forecasting tradition belonged to the humble badger, rather than the groundhog, “but the traditions are otherwise almost identical.” The European badger, like the American groundhog, is “a small, hibernating, forest-dwelling mammal known for being very shy, and it was only natural for German-speaking immigrants to America to substitute the groundhog for the badger.”

A groundhog (not Uni) prepares for the biggest day of small mammal weather forecasting of the year. (Credit: Flickr)

Groundhog Day customs have led to “a fascinating development in Pennsylvania Dutch country: the ‘Groundhog Lodges,’ a loose organization of social clubs focused on the maintenance of Pennsylvania Dutch language and culture. The lodges, which hold meetings called ‘versammlinge,’ at which participants speak only Pennsylvania Dutch, have existed since the 1930s.”

There are plenty of groundhogs marking the occasion throughout Pennsylvania. Punxsutawney Phil, in western PA, has garnered the most fame — likely in large part due to the classic Bill Murray film. Lebanon County also boasts a second furry meteorologist: Mount Gretna’s Grady, who has been making forecasts since 2018.

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Tom has been a professional journalist for nearly four decades. In his spare time, he plays fiddle with the Irish band Fire in the Glen, and he reviews music, books and movies for Rambles.NET. He lives with his wife, Michelle, and has four children: Vinnie, Molly, Annabelle and Wolf.


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