Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Yeah, but why a groundhog?

(oringially written Wednesday, February 01, 2006)

So, Groundhog Day. Anybody excited? Anybody care? I thought not. There are many goofy and pointless “special days” in the American calendar: President’s Day, April Fool’s Day, Black Friday, Flag Day, Grandparents’ Day, Patriot Day, (bet you didn’t even know about those last two) Election Day, Festivus, the Ides of March, Winter Solstice, etc. But Groundhog Day is one of the weirdest, its origins shrouded in mystery and time. Ever wonder where the hell the idea for this day came from? Well, in my 25 years of life, I didn’t either. But I decided to look it up anyway, just so I could tell everybody all about the history of Groundhog Day. Aren’t you glad I did?
After about five minutes of exhausting research on Google, (Google, represent!) four of which was spent looking for nude pictures of Punxsutawney Phil, (official title: Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators, and Weather Prophet Extraordinary!) I found a lot of interesting stuff. Unfortunately, none of that stuff had anything to do with Groundhog Day, so I ignored it.
Anyway, this is what I did find. Apparently, Groundhog Day goes allllllllll the way back to Ye Really Olde Dayes, like Roman Times and whatnot. According to the convoluted little pieces I read, it started off as Candlemas Day. See, early Christians, (and I don’t mean the people who get to church before everybody else. Get it?) decided to pick the day between the Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox, as the day which would decided future weather. The way the story goes, if the day was clear and without clouds, it meant there would be six more weeks of winter, (which is odd because, I mean, wouldn’t there be six more weeks anyway?) and if it was cloudy and overcast, it meant spring was on its way, (presumably, at the normal time that Spring comes, in six weeks.) On this day, the priests, (at least the ones not busy molesting ye olde peasant children) would hand out lighted candles, (yeah I wrote lighted, that is the proper past tense of light, go look it up!) to the townsfolk. What the candles have to do with anything, I’m not too sure. I’m guessing if you couldn’t see the flame, that meant more winter, and if you could then it meant somebody’s thatch-roofed hovel was on fire. Who knows?
Next, it seems that the Romans brought this tradition to Germany during their conquest of Europe. Those Germans who weren’t slaughtered by the hundreds picked up the tradition and ran with it. Now, let me pause here, for a moment, to question the validity of this claim. If you and your people were getting the shit kicked out of you by a foreign people, and friends and family were dying left and right, would you want to adopt an arcane weather forecasting ritual from those massacring those you love? Of course not. So what’s the real story? I don’t know, but if somebody offers me a heavy grant, I’ll consider looking into it.
For some reason the Germans, (being Germans) decided to substitute an animal for common sense. There is a little point of debate on this, one text I read said hedgehogs, another I read said badgers. Which one was it? That’s for you to decide. Why an animal? Maybe they were hungry. Again, nothing I read felt the need to delve into that information, the very information that I wanted to know.
When the Germans migrated to America, a large amount of them settled in Pennsylvania. They decided to continue their tradition of using animals as meteorologists, thereby freaking out all the other Pennsylvanians. As everybody knows, that large and goofy state (motto: eh, at least it’s not Jersey) is simply jam packed with groundhogs. So, the Germans, being the crafty people they are, decided to use groundhogs instead of badgers/hedgehogs. The justification being that groundhogs are “the most intelligent and sensible animal,” they could find. How they figured out these traits is a well-guarded German secret.
So, with almost all of the elements in place, Groundhog Day could officially be in the running for “ Most Pointless American Celebration,” the only thing missing was an official Groundhog for the occasion. That’s where the good, and slightly deranged, people of Punxsutawney, Pa. came in. Being the troopers that they are, they took it upon themselves to take advantage of and commercialize the hell out of the pseudo-holiday.
Since 1887, Phil has been at Gobbler’s Knob, prognosticating the living daylights out of the weather. A whole society has risen up around Phil and his kooky ways. Here’s how it works (and I am not making this up): Phil comes out at 7:25 a.m. The President of the Groundhog Club, (and nowadays, who doesn’t have their own club?) listens to Phil speaking to him in “Groundhogese” a secret language known only to the president and his “inner circle,” and translates what Phil said to the 30,000 or so drunk people hanging out at the Knob.
Phil is the only groundhog that is able to do this. He is the official Groundhog Day groundhog, (according to the club.) There is only ever been one Phil. It seems that every summer he takes a sip of some kind of longevity drink, (beer perhaps?) which adds seven years to his life, (again, according to the club.)
Here are some interesting milestones in Phil’s long career, all of them true.
During the Prohibition Era, early last century, (a dark time in America’s past) Phil threatened 60 more weeks of winter if he wasn’t allowed to drink beer, (way to go Phil!)
In 1981, Phil wore a yellow ribbon in honor of the American hostages in Iran. Damn that Phil is a patriot!
In 1995, Phil got to meet Oprah, when he appeared on her show, (I can’t imagine why, he couldn’t have been hyping his movie Groundhog Day, that came out back in 1993.)
So there you go. Everything you ever wanted to know about Groundhog Day, but didn’t care enough to ask. Spread the knowledge, tell your friends. And enjoy the looks on their faces when your rambling and pointless story lulls them to sleep. You’re welcome!

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