Groundhog Day (A Time for Taking Advice from Animals)

scene from the movie, Groundhog Day
scene from the movie, Groundhog Day (Are they looking into the future together?)

Another Year Gone By

I can’t believe it, already February has already arrived and now it is Groundhog Day. Currently, the weather out here in central Montana is a mixed bag. This morning was bright and sunny, but in the afternoon show squalls flew in from the west and at present are depositing a very thin layer of frozen precipitation along the banks of the Missouri River. I’m not quite sure what this means, but if my memory serves me right, Punxsutawney Phil always emerged from his winter hideout first thing in the morning. So it goes to say that the early morning weather determines the groundhog’s prediction; at least that’s the way it was in the movie. So I guess out here on the high plains we should expect another six weeks of winter weather, even though the ground is bare and the ten day forecast is for above average temperatures. Has anyone informed Punxsutawney Phil or any of his cohorts about Global Warming? Maybe, in the near future the possibility of global warming could be worked into the groundhog’s forecast.

Over the years the popularity of Groundhog Day has risen remarkedly
Over the years the popularity of Groundhog Day has risen remarkably.

The Holiday

February 2nd is a bit of anomaly as far as national holidays go, for not only is an animal involved in this holiday, but the animal involved (that’s the woodchuck) is able to give us (the human population) some long term advice that we might not be able to discern on our own. Considering the state of the human race today, this is no great feat, for mankind seems troubled with all kinds of modern malaise and could do with some good common sense advice. If you don’t believe me, all you have to is watch a few minutes of our presidential primaries. That should relieve all doubt.

the groundhog awaits his special holiday,
the groundhog awaits his special holiday,

Two Offbeat American Holidays…..Back To Back

A Super Bowl stadium collaged with two images depicting Groundhog Day
A Super Bowl stadium collaged with two images depicting Groundhog Day

Winter

Winter is 13 weeks long….and depending where you live – this can be a short 13 weeks or a very long thirteen weeks. Also part of the equation is whether you enjoy outdoor winter sports……or not. For an avid skier, a warm winter with no snow can make for a very long winter and an economically bad season, as well, especially…. if he or she happens to be employed with the ski industry. However, for the most of the rest of us, it is a long ways from the winter solstice to the spring equinox. Perhaps, this explains why there are so many joyous holiday within this time period. Without Christmas, New Years Day, Valentines Day and St. Patrick’s Day, this quarter of the year would be a whole lot, less bearable.

Midwinter

Strangely enough,  two of our most offbeat holidays occur right at the midwinter mark. In fact, this year they fall on consecutive days. If you haven’t guessed it yet, I’m talking about Super Bowl Sunday and Groundhogs Day, which just happen to respectively occur on the first and second day of February. The combination of the two just might maks for a great way to revel in the fact that winter is half over.

Bad Year For the NFL

A recent news story about the jurors in the Aaron Hernandez trial illustrates just how low the NFL has fallen during the current season. Judy Garsh, judge for the Hernandez trial, has ruled that the jurors can watch the Super Bowl, only if the name of Aaron Hernandez is not mentioned. And, if one of the newscasters has a slip of the tongue, then the unlucky viewers will  have to turn the game off. Now that’s bizarre. Combine this situation with all the sex abuse allegations and the recent deflate-gate controversy surrounding the Patriots victory over the Colts and it becomes quite clear that the NFL commissioners (and many fans as well) with have very good reason to celebrate Groundhogs Day on Monday. Yeah!!!! the season’s finally over.

A Cult Movie Accents an Offbeat Holiday

Look through the comedy section of any movie DVD store (or online site) and you will see hundreds of listings with catchy titles that fail to deliver. Strangely enough, one of the perennial favorites is Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell. When first released in 19992, the movie was well received and got favorable reviews. Since then the film has grown in stature, so that nowadays, the popular fantasy fare is consistently listed as one of the top ten comedies and sometimes even included as one of the ten best films ever. So if you have yet to see this film, you might want to give it a viewing. And if one of the announcers slips up and mentions Aaron Hernandez’s name, you can show solidarity with the 18 jurors and turn off the sports contest and put on the groundhog movie.

The Origins of Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day in PA

Ground Zero For Groundhog’s Day

Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania is ground zero for Groundhog’s Day in America, for this is where the legendary Punxsutawney Phil makes his annual appearance and weather prediction for the next six weeks. According to Wikipedia, this strange conglomeration of Roman letters is used to express  a Delaware Indian phrase, which can be translated to mean “town of the sandflies”.

Situated south of Interstae 80, not too far from the town of State College, this small coal-mining, settlement of 6,000 people attracts a large crowd of visitors every February 2. The reason for this gathering is a groundhog named Punxsatawney Phil, who will faithfully reveal his prediction come rain or shine. This year 2013, Punxsatawney Phil did not see his shadow and so residents of western Pennsylvania are expecting an early end to winter.

Winter scene with horses
Winter scene with horses

Origin of Groundhog’s Day

Groundhog Day in America is an unusual event to say the least, especially if you consider the inverse relationship of the weather on Feb. 2  and the actual arrival of warmer spring weather. However, like most holidays, Groundhog Day is not pure fiction, but actually has its origins across the Atlantic in western Europe.

In many Christian countries, there is a mid-winter celebration called Candlemas, which just happens to occur at the mid point of winter, the second day of February.  In fact, in Germany, legend states that it is the lowly hedgehog, which emerges from hibernation at mid-winter and either sees his shadow or he does not. It should also be noted that for many residents of northern Europe, having survived the first half of winter is definitely a time for celebration. The Christian church has capitalized on this popular holiday by encouraging parishioners to  come to worship and light candles to mark the passing of the coldest season.

groundhog day
Movie Poster For Groundhog Day

The Holiday Immortalized

Though now 20 years old, Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray and Andie McDowell has become a cult classic among movie buffs. When it was first released, this film received good reviews, but over the last twenty years the movie seems to have gained popularity, often cited as one of the most popular comedies of all time. Strangely enough the notoriety of Punxsutawney Phil has followed a similar path.

Groundhog’s Day In Maine (today the green grass is visible everywhere)

the groundhog
Closeup Groundhog (Marmota monax) by Eiffelle courtesy Wikipedia

Today in Maine the sun came out and shown brightly for the whole day, but the temperatures remained just a few degrees below freezing. Just about everywhere the grass is visible, a rarity for this part of the country at any time in February. Two weeks ago we had a good snow cover, but a heavy came and washed most of the white stuff away. Snow can be found only in the piles that the snowplow drivers left behind and on the lee side of buildings, where a few shady spots remain.

However, there must be something to that old folktale, for we are forecast to receive some snow tomorrow evening (not much, but it’s still snow), more possibilities on Saturday (but according to our illustrious weatherman that one is suppose to be a near miss), but the weather service is watching a developing storm for early next week. All proof that the lowly woodchuck knows more than we give him (or her ) credit.

Actually, Groundhog’s Day has grown in popularity, as of late. (I think the movie might have something to do with that), for now the participants in Punxsatwney, PA number near in the tens of thousands. Punsatawney Phil is the name of the rodent in Pennsylvania, but he is not alone for groundhogs all across America and Canada have decided to join Phil.

There is quite a list and here are some of the more interesting names. They include Sir Walter Wally from Raleigh, NC, French Creek Freddie from French Creek, WV, General Beauregard Lee from Snellville, GA, Staten Island Chuck from Staten Island, NY, Octoraro Orphie from Quarryville, PA and Spanish Joe from Spanish, Ontario, just to name a few. So far none of the female half of the population has been bestowed with such an honor, but I’m sure that day is coming soon.

Groundhog Day in Pennsylvania
Punxsatawney Phil on Groundhog's Day 2005, photo by Aaron Silver coutesy of Wikipedia Commons

One interesting note is that this day follows at the midpoint between the winter solstice and spring equinox, a date that was important to both the Christian and pagan cultures of Northern Europe.

For the Christmas the day is called Candlemas, a feast day that is connected to the Purification of the Virgin and the end of the epiphany season.

To the pagans the halfway point marks Imbolc, and it is celebrated with bonfires.

So happy Groundhog’s Day everyone and if you haven’t got anything better to do you can rent the movie. It’s a classic.