Saturday, February 16, 2013

Community Celebrations

Local festivals are a fun way to see new things and experience an area's history and culture.

Although Oktoberfest might be the best-known German (or even European) festival, it is far from the only one. Nearly every German town, from a major city like Munich to the smallest little village, holds annual (or bi-annual) celebrations for locals and visitors alike. These public parties provide a little boost to the local economy, a welcome distraction for working citizens, and fun and entertainment for people of all ages. These town-wide celebrations are something for people to look forward to and generally enhance the quality of life in these areas.

How I envy those Europeans!

Although America is not entirely devoid of public celebrations, these kinds of events tend to get crammed into weekend schedules, or, if we're lucky, they're stretched out over a three-day weekend. What a shame! European celebrations often last a week or longer. What makes this possible is the generous amount of time off allowed by the European workplace. Most businesses automatically give employees about 30 days, or six week's worth, of vacation time-- more for higher-up or longer-tenured employees. How pitiful that Americans are only given one or two weeks on average.

Nevertheless, here in America, I strive to be a connoisseur of as may regional events as possible. Just because I can't jaunt off to Europe every week doesn't mean I have to stay home and see nothing! So, in keeping with my New Year's resolution of attending more cultural events, I decided to go on an adventure this month. As a Pennsylvania resident, I thought it was finally time for me to attend one of Pennsylvania's best-known annual celebrations: Groundhog Day.

The Pennsylvania historical marker on Gobbler's Knob.
Groundhog Day is celebrated every February 2nd in Punxsutawney, which is in the northwestern part of Pennsylvania. According to a bastardization of various European legends, if the groundhog (famously named Punxsutawney Phil) sees his shadow in the dawn hours of February 2nd, there will be an additional six weeks of winter. Conversely, if no shadow is seen, an early Spring will arrive. What started as a small, local festival has grown into a huge event, attracting literally tens of thousands of tourists. Of course I had to see what all the fuss was about.

On a cold Friday night, three friends and I (including Mr. Local) made the four-hour drive into the northwestern part of the state. We stayed at the City Hotel in Northern Cambria, which was about a 45 minute drive from Punxsutawney. The hotel was built in the 1800s, so it was nice to stay in such a unique and historical building. Conveniently, the first floor of the hotel was a bar and restaurant, so it was great to have dinner and drinks while conversing with some of the other tourists who were in the area for Groundhog Day-- some were even from as far away as Canada! For those who are not familiar with the whole Groundhog Day celebration-- it's kind of a big deal!

The next morning we drove through snow- and ice-covered roads into Punxsutawney. We parked downtown and rode up on one of the notorious and well-organized school bus shuttles up to Gobbler's Knob, which was a hilly, wooded area just outside of town where the groundhog revelation takes place. It was literally freezing (a windy 8 degrees F), but it was so interesting to see how many thousands of people had bundled up and braved the cold for this celebration. Hundreds of people annually arrive at the Knob hours before the sunrise revelation, and the atmosphere is generally like a tailgating party before a major sporting event. Food trucks, campfires, and camaraderie set the stage for the unique and well-loved celebration.

After Punxsutawney Phil made  his big prediction (an early Spring this winter! But it was hard to hear over the drone of the crowd, so we mistakenly heard six more weeks of Winter), the crowds immediately loaded up on the return shuttles to downtown Punxsutawney, where the celebration continued. My party and I stopped in on one of the many breakfasts sponsored by the local churches, which featured pancakes, homemade sausages, orange juice, and plenty of hot coffee. After a brief stop at the Punxsutawney library, the year-round home of Punxsutawney Phil and his wife, Phyllis, (who normally live in a cute glass-enclosed groundhog habitat connected to the library) we were ready to begin our return journey home. Although it would have been nice to enjoy the local sights for a bit longer, we were just a little too frozen and tired. Should we decide to visit again, I will definitely remember to buy a pair of insulated boots for the event!

I am so glad to have finally celebrated Groundhog Day in the truest and most authentic way possible-- at its home in Punxsutawney! The feeling of anticipation and excitement that radiated throughout the day made it a worthwhile trip. I learned about the major significance this event has to the region, while supporting the local economy and tradition. Best of all, I get to cross off an item from my so-called "bucket list," and that feels good. To me, being open to new experiences and adventures is one of the surest ways to bring a little extra joy and class to everyday life.

Photo was taken by me of a painting by "Adriene" of the City Hotel at the City Hotel in Northern Cambria, Pa.


  1. I've been through Punxsutawney. It's a cute little town, but I imagine it takes on a whole different atmosphere on the big day. Sounds awesome!

  2. Yes-- the people of Punxsutawney are very proud of their little town! At the church breakfast we visited, we saw a schedule for the elementary school-- students get several days off of school for Groundhog Day, probably because of how much work goes into preparing for it!