There are a lot of kooky holidays out there on the calendar. Some of them are random—and randomly celebrated—such as Ronald Reagan Day (celebrated unironically it seems in California every February 6th). Others are random and widely celebrated, such as Groundhog Day.
As with so many other odd holidays (a rodent pops up as a prognosticator? really?!), Groundhog Day is rooted in religious traditions. February 2nd is roughly the half-way point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. Early Christians celebrated Candlemas on this day, where they would light candles in celebration of a cloudy day that would portend an early spring. Of course, this stemmed from Jewish tradition that a woman upon giving birth is “unclean” for 40 days (2/2 is 40 days after Christmas). On the Pagan calendar, the day is celebrated as Imbolc, when the first signs of spring can be detected.
I spent my day celebrating the 20th Anniversary of a film that pretty much was the epitome of Groundhog Day in the mid-90s. In fact, celebrations in Punxatawny, where the infamous Phil declares his shadow’s presence (or absence) each year, hit their peak subsequent to the eponymous film starring Bill Murray.
I actually hadn’t seen the movie in years, and my daughter had never seen it (sadly, she sat down only for the final third). It holds up surprisingly well, although Andie MacDowell remains one of those mysteries of why beautiful women who can’t act are put in film in the first place (I cringe in every scene she’s in where she has to speak… she’s quite good at smiling and/or laughing).
Her forced acting aside (Murray, too… he definitely got better with age), the reason why this film is so brilliant and stands the test of time is the universal truths it presupposes: If you were given an eternity to live, at some point only looking out for number one becomes not just meaningless but boring. Always worrying about oneself leads to a life less lived. When Phil (in this case, Bill Murray’s character) evolves to understand that he can grow as a person and make the lives of others demonstrably better, he is awarded the grace to move on.
For a comedic movie about a rodent, Groundhog Day is one hell of a great allegory. One that is good to remember when facing six more weeks of winter… or an early spring.