Furry forecaster seeks shadow, movie sequels
by Patricia Draznin

GROUNDHOG DAY is one of those amalgamated holidays like Easter that combines disparate elements into one obvious synergy, like chocolate eggs + marshmallow bunnies = Jesus rose from the dead. That’s why the goal of this column is to lift the shadow of mystery surrounding this annual groundhog ritual, as if anything could help. Today we examine the history of a holiday that doesn’t qualify for a day off or even a greeting card, along with the landmark event of 1993, when Bill Murray re-lived February 2nd over and over again until he finally learned the words to “I Got You Babe.”

Groundhog Day emerged from a centuries-old secular phenomenon originating from Candlemas Day, a Christian candlelight procession that replaced the Celtic’s pagan midwinter festival of Imbolc (pronounced “Imbolc”). Are you with me here? No evidence of groundhogs here yet. But the popular February Candlemas jingle carries a familiar ring: “If Candlemas be fair and bright, winter has another flight.” While this saying has now come to mean “a flight to Miami,” it originally meant sunshine + shadows on February 2 = six more weeks of winter, a forecast system that rivals The Weather Channel and runs parallel in logic to “If the Quarterback sees his shadow on December 15, there are six more weeks to Super Bowl.”

In today’s annual ritual, what makes the groundhog so special? Nothing. Are you with me here? In the olden days, each European region designated its own indigenous animal with the job of emerging from hibernation to either see its shadow and go back to sleep for the rest of winter, or not see its shadow and go in search of a festival beer. So just because the groundhog has a crackerjack publicist does not mean that the designated critter isn’t up for grabs. In Texas, for example, February 2nd could be Armadillo Day; in Florida, Alligator Day; and in the District of Columbia, Scooter Libby Day. And word on the street is that Arizona has assigned a snake to look for its shadow, which explains why we don’t hear much about long Arizona winters.

Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania is the New World Mecca for Groundhog Day, starring American Rodent Idol, Punxsutawney Phil, whom you well remember from his 1995 appearance on Oprah following his film debut. In a televised ceremony each year, Phil is rousted from his climate-controlled condo to fulfill his responsibility on Gobbler’s Knob, lured by promises of Rayban endorsements, a movie sequel and YouTube rights. Phil has a fine forecasting average, having predicted 95 times out of 109 that winter isn’t over. So if you’re into gambling on whether the furry forecaster will find his shadow in ‘07, here’s your chance to recoup the rent money you’re about to lose on the Super Bowl. Are you with me here?

Copyright 2007 Patricia Draznin


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