When throngs of people descend upon Punxsutawney to celebrate Groundhog Day on Thursday, businesses and other groups will try to ride the coattails of the cute and cuddly Punxsutawney Phil to gain publicity.

The National Environmental Trust, for example, was planning to send someone in a groundhog suit to Gobbler’s Knob, where Phil is roused from his burrow, who “will ignore his shadow and will instead rely on global warming evidence to forecast an early spring.”

The American Physiological Society is offering experts to discuss “What Punxsutawney Phil can teach us about surviving massive blood loss, preventing muscle atrophy, and more.”

The Pennsylvania Lottery even has Gus, “the second most famous groundhog in Pennsylvania,” who implores lottery players to “keep on scratchin’.”

None of those things are really what Groundhog Day is about, said Mike Johnston, a member of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club’s Inner Circle — the top-hat- and tuxedo-wearing businessmen responsible for carrying on the annual tradition, which takes place Thursday.

“People tend to mistake Groundhog Day,” Johnston said Tuesday. “It’s not important. It’s just important fun.”

Each Feb. 2, thousands of people descend on Punxsutawney, a town of about 6,100 people located about 65 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, for a little midwinter revelry, celebrating what had essentially been a German superstition.

The Germans believed that if a hibernating animal casts a shadow Feb. 2 — the Christian holiday of Candlemas — winter will last another six weeks. If no shadow is seen, legend says spring will come early.

“We are fortunately or unfortunately able to close our eyes to the important issues facing us” for a day anyway, Johnston said, noting that Phil is nonpolitical and can’t speak anyway.

Even so, the club does authorize some commercial use of the copyrighted Punxsutawney Phil. For a number of years, it’s partnered with Ty Inc., the makers of Beanie Babies, to release collectible stuffed groundhogs.

“There is definitely a need for some commercialism on our part ... but we do it in a most selective manner,” Johnston said, adding the club doesn’t want Punxsutawney Phil used inappropriately.

Many offers are rejected, but some do fit, Johnston said.

This year, Vaseline Intensive Care Lotion is the official sponsor of Groundhog Day.

If Phil sees his shadow, Vaseline will reimburse, up to $3.99, anyone who buys a bottle of Intensive Care Lotion on Groundhog Day.

Chances are, Vaseline will have to pay up. Phil has seen his shadow eight times in the past 10 years, Johnston said.

Johnston said the message of keeping skin moisturized fits the theme of weather — and provides organizers money for festivities, which are put on for free.

Johnston won’t say how much Vaseline or any other entity is providing or exactly how much Groundhog Day costs, other than while it’s “shockingly expensive.”

“But in the scope of the Super Bowl, it’s a lot less,” he said.


On the Net:

Punxsutawney Groundhog Club: http://www.groundhog.org

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