HARLEYSVILLE – Ground Pig Day is upon us! Gather for carols, speeches and good cheer under the prophecy of the legendary Punxsutawney Phil. Or, in the case of us Harleysvillians, none other than local representative Harleysville Hank.
The small committee, put together by the Harleysville Mennonite Heritage Center, was coined the “Harleysville Order of the Grundsau” (or HOG by its founding groundhog enthusiasts) and provides year-round correspondence on all things Hank. The tradition dates back to 2016 as its first year in action, both to celebrate a silly tradition and to honor Pennsylvania’s rich Germanic culture.
Mennonite Heritage Center Executive Director Joel Nofziger commented on the celebrations and their deeper connection to Pennsylvania history.
“It is important to note that Groundhog Day is not specifically Mennonite; Rather, it is a German folk festival in Pennsylvania that is based on Germanic myths and Christian traditions surrounding Candlemas,” explained Nofziger.
The idea of Candlemas far predates that of Groundhog Day, where clear weather once heralded a longer winter. Along with a vaguely German tradition of badgers as weather-predicting creatures, the idea of Marmot Day naturally boiled to the surface. However, since the early days of radar forecasting, the celebration has been held more in the spirit of tradition.
“Harleysville Hank focuses more on the nonsensical aspect of tradition – it’s just fun that borders on the ridiculous. Does it make sense to wake up early in the morning, sing marmot songs, hear a poem or two, and then grab a bite to eat? Not particularly. However, I firmly believe that if we can’t do fun things together as a community, we have no hope of doing serious things together.”
The celebrations begin this Thursday at 7:00 am at 565 Yoder Road, where a quick snack of coffee and fresh herbs will precede the gathering. A recitation of a Groundhog Day poem written by Steve Diehl, the late executive director of the cultural center, is read to the crowd.
While the celebration is fun and games, Nofziger surmises that the fun of Groundhog Day is part of our larger cultural puzzle.
“Although we are a Mennonite organization, understanding the Mennonites between Schuylkill and Delaware requires an understanding of the local community (and the reverse is also true), so we serve and interpret issues far beyond what some may think, when they see ‘Mennonites.’”
He goes on to point out that an inherent connection between two historical cultures is not accidental.
“Mennonites fit in that Pennsylvania Mennonites have always been swimming in a Pennsylvania German cultural ocean, so to speak… This indicates an area of commonality that Mennonites and the wider community share, which is part of the value of the event. ”
A multi-faceted culmination of cultural mingling, Groundhog Day serves as a lesson in the history of the land that lies right beneath our feet. Keeping tradition in local canon, however, requires attraction and celebration, which Nofziger believes are the most important aspects of all.
“Sometimes people think that history and historical work is always serious, stuffy and boring. This is an opportunity to have fun, learn a little about Pennsylvania German culture, and maybe learn a little about how this community thought of itself,” affirmed Nofziger.