Howard County Maryland Blog

Local Politics and Current Events

Groundhog Day

Posted by Jim Walsh on Friday, February 2, 2007

Wake up campers, rise and shine, it’s Groundhog Day.

The origins of Groundhog Day can be traced back to one of eight traditional Celtic festivals – two solstices, two equinoxes and four mid-season festivals. The mid-winter festival was known as Imbolc, and was considered to be the time of planning and hopes.

As with most Celtic festivals, Imbolc was eventually supplanted by a Christian holiday – Candlemas Day, which commemorated the day 40 days after Jesus’ birth when Mary would have gone through a traditional Jewish purification ritual for new mothers. Legend held that “if Candlemas Day be bright and clear, there’ll be two winters in a year.” Thus, the counterintuitive prediction that if the hedgehog (substituted by a groundhog in America) sees his shadow on February 2, there will be six more weeks of winter, while a cloudy Groundhog Day foretells an early spring.

In modern culture, Groundhog Day is closely associated with the 1993 Bill Murray movie about a surly Pittsburgh weatherman, Phil Connors, exiled to the hinterlands of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania on February 2 to provide a field report on the prediction by the world’s most famous groundhog – Punxsutawney Phil. Stranded in Punxsutawney by a blizzard that he failed to predict, Phil (“just like the groundhog!”) relives February 2 over and over and over and over again. Cynical Phil experiments with his own apparent immortality, and uses his advance knowledge in his efforts to get the girls. However, he gradually develops previously undiscovered talents and finds a newfound sense of humanity from which he uses his gift to help other people around him, while also realizing that there are limits on what even he can do. By the end of the movie, Phil is the best friend of virtually everyone in Punxsutawney.

An early draft of the screenplay provided an explanation of how Phil came to be fated to relive the same day repeatedly; I believe it’s fortunate that the explanation was omitted from the film. I am reminded that we need to remain connected with the people around us, and that each day we have is a gift from God.

So raise a glass of Woodchuck Ale to an ancient Celtic festival, a medieval Christian holiday, a weather-predicting rodent and a silly comedy movie that actually has something to say to each of us.

Wake up campers, rise and shine, it’s Groundhog Day.

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2 Responses to “Groundhog Day”

  1. matthew said

    My favorite Groundhog is “Smith Lake Jake”, he wears a hat, with his name on it. I read in a magazine where he is the worlds 2nd most famous Groundhog.

  2. farris wilbert said

    Smith Lake Jake is Americas 2nd most famous groundhog.

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