Thursday, February 01, 2024

Groundhog Day

February 2 is almost upon us -- Groundhog Day, aka Imbolc (Celtic) or Candlemas (Christian). Here's a brief overview of its history:


This date constitutes one of the major seasonal milestones of the pagan year, halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. Originally the festival of the goddess Brigid, it morphed into the feast day of St. Brigid in the Christian era. According to the website above, Imbolc marked the beginning of spring. Maybe in the British Isles, but definitely not around here!

Since the official first day of spring falls approximately six weeks after February 2, it's logical for the emergence of groundhogs (in North America) from their burrows -- woodchucks or badgers in Europe -- to signal six more weeks of winter. If you assume that's what the animal's shadow portends, your guess has a high chance of being correct. I wondered for years why seeing his shadow would forecast a longer winter. Wouldn't bright sun lead us to expect an early spring? Eventually I realized clear weather in winter is likely to be colder, while warmer air holds more moisture and thus might produce a cloudy day. So the association of sighting a shadow with the prospect of continued freezing temperatures makes a certain amount of sense.

Oddly, the alleged predictions of the famous groundhog of Punxsutawney, PA, have consistently more often than not been less accurate than chance. Nowadays, why don't the handlers "translating" for him consult a long-term weather forecast before making their pronouncements?

The movie GROUNDHOG DAY presents an initially funny but gradually darkening exploration of "What if you could live your life over?" The hero of the film, of course, just lives one day over -- and over and over. The compulsion to keep repeating that day until he gets it right leads to a downward spiral of nihilistic despair rather than optimism about getting a fresh start, until he changes his attitude and sincerely tries to do better. In the midst of its humor, the movie raises the grim prospect that getting a do-over in life might not turn out so great as we'd hope. What if every attempt to fix some mistake in the past created a fresh disaster? Luckily for the protagonist's future and the viewer's satisfaction, he does eventually get it right. In that respect GROUNDHOG DAY resembles A CHRISTMAS CAROL. In an interesting coincidence, the same actor, Bill Murray, stars in both GROUNDHOG DAY and SCROOGED as the selfish cynic needing reformation.

Margaret L. Carter

Please explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

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