My first essay for The Philadelphia Inquirer (published February 2, 2011)...
GROUNDHOG DAY SHOULD BE A NATIONAL HOLIDAY
There are many silly made-up holidays in the 28 days of blah that constitute February: Spunky Old Broads’ Day, National Spay Your Pet Day, etc. And of course, February has two biggies: Valentine’s Day and Presidents’ Day. The former, supposedly a celebration of love, is really a shameless shakedown for guilt-laden cash. The latter exists just to create a long weekend: nothing but time and leisure to enjoy your closed bank, shuttered state store and undelivered mail.
But Groundhog Day! It’s just about perfect. It is an oasis of optimism against the odds, such a great message for a bleak month. Everyone is captivated as Furry Phil (looking astoundingly good for his advanced age) emerges from his burrow and predicts the end of winter. And that’s pretty much that. No need to spend a dime on decorations. No scrambling to trim a tree or roast a turkey or dye an egg. Only the merchants of Punxsutawney itself see a profit from what is otherwise a purely commercial-free day. Phil delivers a clear message: Spring will be here in less than six weeks. Or it won’t. And occasionally, he’s even right—surely a track record that is the envy of meteorologists everywhere.
Unlike some of his fanciful counterparts, this lovable rodent doesn’t demand teeth under pillows or milk and cookies by the fireplace. His prognostication is simple and heartfelt, and offered free of charge: someday soon (or soon-ish), the flowers will bloom again, the birds will sing. We’ve all nearly made it through another season of cold and dark, and Phil cheers us on: “You can do it! The finish line’s just up ahead! Maybe!”
And how would we observe this new day off? We could start, like Phil, by going back to sleep for a few hours. We are, all of us, very tired. On Groundhog Day, snoozing would be mandated. Later, we could make shadow puppets with the family, and maybe gather for a simple meal of hickory nuts, roots, leaves and grubs. But the primary activities would be Encouraging and Hoping—two lovely things to do that require no equipment or expenditure. Encouraging might include calling a friend who has the blues. Smiling at the harried checkout cashier. Pointing out to your husband the spots he missed while shoveling the driveway. And hoping? On Groundhog Day, we can declare a moratorium on gloom and doom, turn off the sad, scary TV news and step away from the Internet. We can dream of that halcyon time ahead when the snow boots are stored and the heating bills go down.
Like Punxsutawney Phil, we are merely speculators, not really knowing the hows and whens and wheres of life. But on this new national holiday, we can learn from our wise animal friend, and just keep showing up. Just keep giving life our best shot, looking on the bright side for positive outcomes.
And then we can take another nap.