(this was first published in Mountain Home Magazine)
Every year when I flip the calendar from January to February and see “Groundhog Day” written in that little box under February 2nd, I crack up. I wonder what a space alien, coming upon our calendar, might think about this Groundhog Day holiday. What is commemorated on Groundhog Day? Are groundhogs honored? Will there be a parade, a ceremony, some observance? Will there be pictures of groundhogs displayed on public buildings? What exactly happens on Groundhog Day?
Of course, everyone knows what happens on Groundhog Day. And everyone knows what doesn’t happen. And it is what doesn’t happen that thrills me the most about Groundhog Day.
I don’t have to shop for it, for one thing, which is a blessed relief. I don’t have to find the perfect Groundhog Day gift for everyone on my list because there is no list.
I don’t have to wonder what to make for Groundhog Day dinner and I don’t have to worry about who might be eating alone on Groundhog Day and should I invite them.
I don’t have to get a tree or hang lights all over my house (though the thought of brown icicle lights hanging from roof eaves is kinda funny—but no.) Don’t start, people. Really. Don’t.
I don’t have to send cards or buy my daughter an airline ticket home so she can spend Groundhog Day with the family.
I don’t have to listen to endless Groundhog Day songs piped through the sound systems of every store in town.
I don’t have to get aggravated with retailers who “push” the holiday. I don’t have to walk through the store grumbling, “They no sooner pack up all the Christmas stuff than the Groundhog Day stuff is all over the place!.”
The liquor store is open on Groundhog Day. So are the post office and the bank. All the schools are in session. There is no parade, no special prayers to say, or candles to light, or cemeteries to visit.
What does happen on Groundhog Day is this: When I wake up in the morning and realize it is indeed Groundhog Day, I rush to the TV. If I’ve made it in time, I get to see two men in top hats lifting up a fat, shiny, impeccably groomed groundhog by the scruff of its neck. They plant a big kiss on its lips and declare (96% of the time) that the groundhog has seen his shadow and therefore there will be six more weeks of winter.
The crowd in Punxatawney goes wild. I go wild. It’s a great day. A great moment. A deeply atavistic, primal moment when I remember that I too, am a creature of the earth. That I too, have been hibernating for some time (albeit maybe only in the deep, dark recesses of my own day-to-day drama) and that now, maybe, it’s time to wake up and peek out. Maybe it’s time to start noticing the day, and how there is a new quality of light slanting through the window. Maybe now it’s time to look up and actively, consciously, notice the sky.
Groundhog Day signals the halfway point between the first day of winter and the first day of spring, so maybe it’s also time to start looking at the ground again. Not for groundhogs, but maybe for a snowdrop, or a crocus. Maybe it’s time, finally, to wake up out of my solipsistic daydream and notice the first robin, or that long rosary of geese making its way north again after the long dream of winter. Maybe it’s time to sit outside in my parka, my back to the late winter sun, and contemplate my own shadow.