Groundhog Day: Floridians Celebrate Six More Weeks of Winter With a Hollywood Swim
All photos taken by Jess Swanson
At 7:20 a.m. Sunday in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, a groundhog named Punxsutawney Phil awoke from hibernation, saw its shadow, and unwittingly predicted six more weeks of winter. Considering that temperatures were in the 20s that day, no one can really blame the poor fellow for retreating to the warmth of its hole (even though most folks had crossed their fingers for an early spring).
Meanwhile, almost 1,200 miles away at the Hollywood Beach Broadwalk, hundreds of people stripped down to their bathing suits and plunged into the ocean alongside a friendly human-sized groundhog to celebrate Groundhog Day the wacky Floridian way. It was 75 degrees, there wasn't a cloud in the sky, and the sun was peeking over the horizon. People lathered themselves with sunscreen and darted for the ocean completely unfazed by the rodent's six-more-weeks-of-winter prediction.
The holiday was first celebrated 118 years ago at Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney, where it has remained every year since. Since then, other states have found their own weather-predicting groundhogs and have given them their own alliterative nicknames, but the first -- and most reliable -- was Punxsutawney Phil from Pennsylvania. The famed rodent has met President Reagan, made an appearance on Oprah, and inspired the eponymous movie starring Bill Murray.
Cahoots newspaper publisher Jeff Hansen is originally from Punxsutawney but currently resides in South Florida. As a huge fan of the holiday, Hansen organized South Florida's own Groundhog Day tradition ten years ago. Since then, people have set their alarms early to attend the relatively frigid sunrise swim at Hollywood Beach year after year."You might be better off staying out the night before!" Hansen advises.
For $12, you got breakfast at 6:30 a.m. at Ocean Alley on the Broadwalk, received a T-shirt, then rushed into the Atlantic Ocean (only after you finish digesting) with your fellow groundhog-loving compatriots. Yesterday Hansen raised $2,000 for the Hollywood Junior Lifeguard Program and the Hollywood Beach Lifeguard Competition.
There were snowbirds there appreciating the weather and locals struggling to dip a toe into the water. There were children who hugged the human-sized groundhog costume and parents who took refrigerator-worthy photos of it. There were even a few teenagers posing for selfies with the costumed rodent before uploading onto Instagram.
At 7:20 a.m. everyone huddled around on the beach in a circle, sang the national anthem, and then rushed into the water. It might be South Florida, but it's still technically winter, and most swimmers found the water to be too cold and retreated to the beach after a few minutes. "I was in New York just last week," a woman donning a top hat and bow tie tells me. "This is nice. It feels like summer!"
While the temperature is dropping in Pennsylvania for the rest of the week, here in South Florida, things are heating up. Forget the shadow Punxsutawney Phil allegedly saw; this is Florida, expect temps in the 90s by Friday.
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