Photo: Jacob Dingel / PGC Photo
Yep, it’s Groundhog Day. I’ve never been sure if it’s an actual holiday or some sort of day of observance, but just the thought of there being a “Groundhog Day” on our national calendar has always seemed odd to me. No doubt it must confound poor little Punxsutawney Phil as well, what with the throngs of fans gathering around him every year, anxiously awaiting his verdict on the arrival of an early spring. Then there’s the Inner Circle, Phil’s very own Knights Templar in top hats, sworn to uphold tradition and protect the oversized squirrel for future “prognostications.” How can anyone keep a straight face?
Time to get to the bottom of all this. As it turns out, February 2 is the midpoint between the start of winter and the start of spring, thus signaling the change of seasons and return of warmer weather. Originally called Imbolc by the Gaels and then St. Brigid’s Day and Candlemas by the early Christians, it is also a day of celebration, rich with the symbolism of fire and new life. As a further sign of the coming spring, animals such as snakes, bears and badgers (and later groundhogs in North America) would come out of hibernation. But what seems odd is the connection of a groundhog seeing its shadow and 6 more weeks of winter: wouldn’t not seeing its shadow mean more dreary, overcast weather? Of course, wouldn’t anyone be able to see or not see their own shadow and draw their own conclusion?
I think the concept of what we now call Groundhog Day is nothing more than good old fashioned fun — a folksy way of breaking the monotony of winter while preserving a piece of the past. Phil’s predictions aren’t even all that credible: according to one source, Phil has a success rate of only 39%. Phil’s internal clock, which is set for hibernation and mating according to his local winter/spring cycle, must already be thrown out of whack if he’s living in captivity. As for Phil’s cousins living in the wild in other areas, there’s climate change to contend with.
Much like the white bunny and baby chick that have come to represent Easter and springtime, the groundhog will remain the furry mascot of seasonal change.