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David Beaulieu

Groundhog Day: The Shadowy Holiday

By January 14, 2014

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Groundhog Day is a funky celebration held every year on February 2. picture of shadows in winter landscapeMany people are aware of the gist of the occurrence: they know they're supposed to hope that Punxsutawney Phil does not see his shadow, meaning we'll be treated to an early spring. But probably just as many folks erroneously think that we're supposed to root for him to see his shadow. And even most of those who understand that the shadow is a "bad" thing are quite in the dark about the deeper meaning behind Groundhog Day.

So you see, Groundhog Day is a shadowy holiday in other senses, too (that is, beyond the physical shadow involved): it is seen as unsubstantial because it is not clearly understood. We commonly think of it as little more than a joke, an occasion that wouldn't even be worth noting if not for the fact that we've been observing it for many years. "After all," the naysayers argue, "what could a woodchuck possibly have to do with meteorology?"

But to issue such an indictment is to misunderstand the event entirely. To discover the true meaning behind Groundhog Day, you have to get past the rodent and all the hoopla associated with his prediction. There is a psychological significance to February 2, and it ties in with the Spring Equinox. Do I have your attention now?

I want to elaborate on that significance a bit today -- especially from a gardener's perspective -- while also requesting some input from you.

Even those who pooh-pooh Groundhog Day will have to admit one moderately interesting fact: namely, that Groundhog Day is the only holiday about weather. Coincidence? I think not. Groundhog Day occurs at a time of year when weather occupies Northerners' thoughts more thoroughly than at any other time of the year. That goes doubly for gardeners, who are itching to get winter over with and begin the planting season. Mired in the throes of winter, our state of mind is not unlike that of Phil Connors (Bill Murray) in the Groundhog Day movie, when he quips:

"You want a prediction about the weather? You're asking the wrong Phil [i.e., Punxsutawney Phil]. I'll give you a winter prediction: It's gonna be cold, it's gonna be gray, and it's gonna last you for the rest of your life."

But there's something else about Groundhog Day that is not coincidental: the date on which it falls. February 2 marks the exact mid-point of winter. As such, Groundhog Day is something of a milepost for the winter-weary. Celebrating the attainment of such mileposts on the calendar is one way to beat the winter blues.

How do you feel about all of this? I'd like to hear your opinion regarding Groundhog Day, whether it be about:

  • "Celebrating" Groundhog Day (even if only by viewing the namesake movie annually)
  • Telling us how silly a holiday you think it is
  • Giving us your own interpretation of its deeper meaning

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January 14, 2014 at 2:50 pm
(1) Vickie Parker says:

Very interesting. Makes sense now.

January 15, 2014 at 2:39 am
(2) Maxwell Gullette says:

Living in northern Minnesota “halfway” through winter is something to be proud of. That being said I had not thought of it as the halfway marker….what a ray of hope.

January 15, 2014 at 8:01 am
(3) landscaping says:

Thanks for commenting, Maxwell. Not many of my Google+ friends make it over here!

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