GROUNDHOG DAY: Louisiana/Festivities rooted in local culture
Groundhog Day in the Deep South has been customized to fit the reality that a long or short winter is irrelevant.
Down in the bayous of southwestern Louisiana, America’s Cajun groundhog, Pierre C. Shadeaux, has a say in the advent of spring or summer.
“As Southerners, we don’t want some Yankee groundhog predicting our weather, so we turned to a nutria, the closest thing we could find to a groundhog,’ said Will Chapman, creator of the Cajun Groundhog Day celebration.
“If Pierre sees his shadow, it’s bad news for locals as it means a short spring and that summer’s heat and humidity will be here early. No shadow for Pierre, and its good news – a longer spring, milder temperatures – a postponement of summer’s heat and humidity.’
Chapman is publisher of The Daily Iberian, the paper serving New Iberia. The area is about two hours from New Orleans and closer to Texas, truth be told. Iberia’s downtown business association is a co-sponsor.
“Pierre lives in the swamps,’ Chapman explained. “Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries agents are nice enough to bring Pierre to town. He stays at a local veterinarian’s office for a few days, where he gets spa-like treatment as he’s pampered, cleaned up, fed and hopefully gotten into a good temperament and a good frame of mind for making his prediction. And then they bring him over that morning and put him in the cottage.’
The nutria’s home for the day is a custom-built Acadian home in the style of the traditional Cajun cottage. And there in Bouligny Plaza, New Iberia’s town square, Pierre emerges from the cottage and delivers the word at 7:30 a.m. amid pomp and ceremony. Upwards of 50 to 100 people join the celebration.
“We usually have a school group, some kids who sing a song that’s groundhog related some way,’ Chapman said. “The mayor and parish president issue proclamations, and a priest or preacher will give an invocation that usually is tied in with the theme of the day.
“We have a grand marshal, somebody who is greatly honored to be the person that tells us what Pierre sees, whether he sees his shadow or doesn’t see his shadow.’
Pierre C. Shadeaux – named by a local pharmacist in a contest – made his 12th annual prediction on Groundhog Day.
Pierre C. Shadeaux braved the overcast weather and slight chill this morning to bring good news to South Louisiana.
With a decision called by Rev. Scott Bullock of First United Methodist Church, Shadeaux “seemed pretty confident” and didn’t see his shadow, meaning South Louisiana will have a longer spring, putting off the return of summer’s heat and humidity.
This is better news than Punxsutawney Phil brought to the rest of the country early this morning, as he saw his shadow, predicting six more weeks of winter.