“Well, it's Groundhog Day... again.” Yes, you guessed it: as well as being a fact today, it’s also a quote from the movie, Groundhog Day. Apparently, many folks watch this movie every year. Larry’s and my friends, Linda and Joe, do. And, when they learned that we had never seen it—apparently some of the last people in America to be in that predicament—they generously lent it to us. So, in the name of research for this Michiana Chronicle, we, along with our also-still-living-in-a-cave friend, Patsy, sat down for our maiden voyage. More about that later, but first, as they say . . .
Is “ground hog” one word or two? There seems to be division on that. The movie has it as one word though, and my gold-standard, The Oxford English Dictionary goes with the compound form and charmingly defines it as “the North American term for woodchuck”—woodchuck also being one word. Following that tidbit, think a bit about the history of this rather strange festival.
In a twist on the practice of churchy-types inventing feast days to counteract pagan festivals, this seems to be a day where a church feast, Candlemas, has been overshadowed (pun intended) by the folkloric. Depending on your viewpoint: a step backward?
In the U.S. (Heaven help us, this nonsense has spread to Canada too!) the carryings-on first were mentioned around 1840, but got into full swing in the 1880’s. We have this information courtesy of the Pennsylvania-Welsh reporting on their Pennsylvania-German neighbors as the origin of the popularization of this February 2 festivity. Other points of interest: people used to trap and eat these things; at some point, the groundhog was referred to as a “bear-rat” (Pretty descriptive, don’t you think?); the accuracy of its weather prognostication comes in between 28 and 50% depending on the keeper-of-the-stats. And, to give the 1993 movie its due, or castigation, it greatly increased the popularity of attendance at the main-event-site, Punxsutawney, PA: up from about 2,000 to around 10,000.
Pre-movie though, I remember having an economic/marketing discussion with my father about how the greeting card companies had missed February 2nd as a card-sending occasion. Seemed odd to us that they were skipping this opportunity. To fill the gap though, I painstakingly constructed a Groundhog Day card for him. I well remember drawing a standing groundhog on the front, but have no clue what the sentiment inside might have been. I would like to think that it was something clever like, “Blue skies smiling on you,” but more likely is was an uninspired “Happy Groundhog Day.” I was fairly young.
Now, back to the movie. Frankly, we weren’t all that impressed. Can’t say why, but I don’t think that it is because any of us are opposed to the concept of finding true love, or even that it might be difficult to do so. Who knows, could be that on reflection it will grow on us. On the other side of the coin though, when I mentioned to the next generation that we had watched it, Joseph whole-heartedly commented that it is one of his favorite movies. Maybe it’s a generational thing.
Since I think that I was one of the last Americans to see Groundhog Day, I don’t suppose that it will be a spoiler to talk about the Groundhog day replay aspect of the movie. Since viewing it, I have come to wish that, like in the movie, some days could be replayed again and again. If that were so, I would choose a day before mid-January. That way, our fellow-Michiana Chronicler, David James, still would be among us enriching our lives with his wisdom, humanity, senses of justice and humor and wailing-good musicianship. A replay of his days would be a good thing. We all are a richer for having known David and poorer for David’s passing.
Music: "Port na bPúcai (Dance of the Dead)" by David James