FRANCONIA — Tired of waiting until Feb. 2 to get the only reliable prediction of whether spring will come early or there will be another six weeks of winter? 

This year you don't have to. 

Harleysville Hank is coming out a day early.

This will be the fifth year for the Harleysville Hank Groundhog Day Extravaganza at the Mennonite Heritage Center on Yoder Road, but the first time since the start that Feb. 2 falls on a Sunday. 

"Hank's waking up a day early because he doesn't want his first day up to be on Sunday," Steve Hunsberger, Harleysville Order of the Grundsow geldhaver (treasurer), said. 

Next year, the extravaganza will return to Feb. 2, but this year it will be on Saturday, Feb. 1, he said. 

While it's hard to believe there could be anyone who doesn't know about Harleysville Hank, his Facebook page attests he's single, enjoys tunneling, history and weather topics and speaks Pennsylvania Dutch. Under awards, he lists "Best Groundhog. Ever."  

"The Harleysville Order of the Grundsow (H.O.G.) exists to promote the prognosticational powers of the long ignored marmota monax of the Indian Valley," the page explains.

For those who are confused and have to pause to ponder while you throw the horse over the fence some hay, Hunsberger gives the Harleysville Hank origin story. 

"It was started as a social media experiment to see how people would interact with a fictional character on social media," he said. "It's grown into just this kind of great community mascot."

Harleysville Hank gives a nod to the Pennsylvania Dutch tradition, along with incorporating more contemporary features, he said. 

Groundhog carols, such as "I'm Dreaming of the Great Groundhog" are led by the Barnyard Singers, and kettle-cooked scrapple is served.

"It's just this neat mash-up of old and new," Hunsberger said. "It's a fun event."

In the myth and ballad of Harleysville Hank, created by HOG habtmon (chairman) Steve Diehl, Hank has been making his predictions forever, but no one was around to see it until Hank was discovered when an old local barn was dismantled and reassembled at the Mennonite Heritage Center. The extravaganza, which debuted in 2016, is held at the barn. 

Diehl, who was the executive director of the Mennonite Historians of Eastern Pennsylvania, which operates the Mennonite Heritage Center, died of cancer in March of 2019. 

At the 2016 inaugural event, Diehl, slightly tongue in cheek, attested to the accuracy of the Groundhog Day predictions, saying of Hank, "He doesn't make it up. It's what he sees, what he senses. He's always right."

He later amended that to say that Hank is always right, "according to him. We'll see."

This year's event will include an acknowledgement of Diehl's passing last spring, Hunsberger said. 

"We don't want this to be a somber event, but we want to recognize that Steve's not there," he said. 

"We're missing him and this was his baby," Hunsberger said. "We want to keep this going in his honor." 

Diehl's hat will be on a coat rack at the event, Hunsberger said. 

Groundhog Day comes in the middle of winter, falling six weeks before the calendar year's beginning of spring. If the groundhog sees its shadow, six more weeks of winter are predicted. If the groundhog does not see its shadow, an early spring is predicted.

In a show of the growing popularity of Harleysville Hank, an estimated about 150 people turned out last year despite the low single-digit temperature. In the days leading up to the extravaganza, Harleysville Hank also makes stops at local businesses or organizations, with photos of those visits posted on his Facebook page. 

The barn opens at 6:30 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 1 for this year's Harleysville Hank Groundhog Day Extravaganza, the Mennonite Heritage Center said in a release. Free hot chocolate and coffee will be available. Hank's prognostication ceremony is at 7 a.m., wrapping up around 7:20 a.m., after which the scrapple is served. 

Information is available at www.mhep.org or the Harleysville Hank Facebook page.     

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