Joyce McQuown Smith, Punxsutawney Ambassador Extraordinaire

For Joyce McQuown Smith, Feb. 2 was a big day back in her former home of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.

By Ellen Sussman, Special to the Green Valley News

Anyone originally from a frigid winter state knows all about the fuss over Ground­hog Day, the annual Feb. 2 ritual. Would winter last six more weeks, or would there be a reprieve? It’s not an event that gets atten­tion in Green Valley, where temper­atures last week were in the 70s. For resi­dent Joyce McQuown Smith it’s still a banner day. Smith hails from Punx­sutaw­ney in central Penns­ylvania, and became an official Ground­hog Ambas­sador in 1985. Living in Green Valley since 2004, she still has her collec­tion of Ground­hog Day para­pher­nalia, in­clud­ing a wood-carved groundhog, a t-shirt, a framed ambassador certificate, a groundhog-shaped cookie cutter from the days when she’d bake cookies and bring them to work on Ground­hog Day, and other small trinkets.
   Punxsutawney is where Ground­hog Day origin­ated on Feb. 2, 1886, and is where a cere­mony is held every year. It’s a Penn­sylvania Dutch super­stition that if a ground­hog—named Punx­su­tawney Phil—comes out of its burrow on Feb. 2 and sees a shadow due to clear weather, he will go back under­ground for an­other six weeks of winter. If it’s cloudy when the ground­hog emerges and he doesn’t see his shadow, spring will arrive early. As a Groundhog Ambassador, I spread the word, Smith said. Someone has to nomi­nate you and then you need to be ap­pro­ved by a Ground­hog Day committee. Techni­cally, she's still am­bas­sador, though dor­mant.
   She re­called the hoopla of Ground­hog Day when she lived in Punx­sutaw­ney and said men would drag a ground­hog out from a burrow under a stump. There were ground­hog earrings, shirts, things to stimulate the economy. Groundhog Day became crazy after 1993, when the movie of the same name came out, she said. It’s not too excit­ing here; it doesn’t have much kick, Smith said. Ground­hog Day or­ginated from the Christian cele­bration Candlemas Day, which marked the mid­point between the winter sol­stice and the spring equi­nox. Weather lore was brought from German-speaking areas, where the badger is viewed as a fore­casting animal. In cold-weather states and Canada, Feb. 2 still gets due attent­ion. Phil's pre­dic­tion this year? He saw his sha­dow on Friday — six more weeks of winter. It's good to be in Arizona.

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