Though you wouldn’t know it by looking at storefront windows, there’s a holiday coming up next week. There will be no parade. No front page headlines. No spectacular electronics sales. No day off from work, either. Next Monday, February 2nd, is Groundhog Day.
You have to admit, this is one of our weirder holidays. Banks don’t close and mail gets delivered. But there it is on your calendar. It’s kind of like Secretary’s Day, only the groundhog gets paid 23 cents more per hour because he’s a guy. Go figure.
It’s believed that a similar tradition started in ancient Rome. The early settlers here wanted to continue it because we didn’t have a lot of holidays at that time. There was no Thanksgiving yet, or George Washington’s or Lincoln’s birthdays or arguably the biggest holiday of the year—Black Friday. So they looked for a hibernating animal that would awaken from months of sleeping to signal when Spring would arrive. Unfortunately, the first attempt was Grizzly Bear Day, which only lasted fifteen minutes, ruined the picnic and ring toss equipment, and didn’t result in any forecast being given. Still liking the idea, but agreeing to retool, the holiday founders who survived and were still fully functioning, wisely settled on the tamer, vegetarian groundhog for the following year.
Looking at the bigger picture, the whole day has to be pretty traumatic for Punxsutawney Phil, the official groundhog. Here he is, tucked in for the winter, sound asleep for months with all the utilities turned off. Ahhh…peace and quiet. Suddenly he’s yanked out of his bed and forced to go outside into the cold without even having his first cup of coffee. How’s he supposed to know what’s going on? The guy’s barely awake. I feel ya, man.
But in this day and age, the real question is why are we even perpetuating this outdated, lowest-of-the-lowest tech celebrations? Hallmark doesn’t even bother making cards for it. We’ve got hundreds of billions of dollars in weather satellites circling the planet. We’ve got state-of-the-art computer networks programmed with models of every storm pattern and atmospheric anomaly known to Man for the last one hundred years, and the best projections they can give us is up to a week in advance. So naturally, at dawn on a cold day in February, we look to a shy animal who lives in a hole with no internet to tell us when Spring is going to be here? True, he’s got a 50-50 chance of getting it right, which is better than our weathermen, but if I’m Phil, I’m not concerned about the weather at that point. I’m being held up in the air looking at thousands of people on my front lawn and I’m thinking, “They want to eat me.”
That’s not the only flag that’s thrown on this play every year. First, how do we know his name is Phil? Since this tradition has only been going on in modern times since the late 1800s, are we supposed to believe that all male groundhogs are fully vetted with only the ones really named Phil being eligible for the position? How do we know their names aren’t Fritz, Jamal or Wally, and aren’t using a fake ID to get the job? Are they even from this country? Personally, I like “Punxsutawney Jamal.” “P-Jam.” Yeah. Cool. But no matter. They’ll probably keep it Phil so he won’t have to get new checks printed up.
Secondly, how do we know it’s the same groundhog from last year? Who’s to say that the old Phil didn’t get fed up with the job and moved to South Carolina in July when nobody was looking? Maybe the new groundhog is a charlatan with a prison record. Just what we need, another scandal in Pennsylvania. I guess they weren’t embarrassed enough after Teapot Dome.
Thirdly, the President of the club that holds the event interprets what Phil tells him about seeing or not seeing his shadow. Let me repeat that. The President of the club that holds the event interprets what Phil tells him about seeing or not seeing his shadow. I find that baffling. Having studied groundhog at University, the language is not easy to learn. It has lots of nuances that can escape even the most trained ears like mine. For example, “I see my shadow” sounds very similar in groundhogian to “you’re hurting my arm.” Likewise “I don’t see my shadow” is commonly confused with “Has anyone seen Liza Minnelli?” And let’s be clear about something. Phil comes out of the ground when he wants to come out and he’s not coming out to see his shadow. He’s coming out because he’s been sleeping all winter, he’s hungry and he wants a woman. Luckily, if Groundhog Day falls on a Sunday, his first stop is a sports bar where he can get both needs taken care of.
I hate to disparage P-Jam, uh, Phil, but I think he secretly wants six more weeks of winter and is putting his thumb, if he has one, on the scale. That means he can go back to sleep and not have to worry about anything til Spring. Who wouldn’t want that? I want that! So why are we relying on this self-serving little fur ball? I’ll make this offer to the good people surrounding Gobbler’s Knob where the whole ceremony takes place—without trying to break the bank, pay me $500 a year, wake me up on Feb 2, I’ll check the weather app on my smartphone and tell you if I’m going to see my shadow or not. Better yet, don’t wake me up. I’ll text you whatever you want to hear right now. That way you get what you want, I get to sleep in and I make $500 to boot.
To keep the whole thing transparent and legit, I’ll even change my name to Phil… but not til after that first check clears.
Happy Groundhog Day!