Groundhog Day: An Early Spring Predicted
February 2, 2013 | Reviews
Punxsutawney Phil has spring in his step. The vermin emerged from his lair, didn’t see its shadow, wasn’t picked off by coyotes and didn’t otherwise disappoint the thousands watching in the unfortunately named burg of Gobbler’s Knob, PA.
One of our favorite movies of all time is the splendid Groundhog Day (for our least favorite, see Batman & Robin and the case we made that it’s the worst film of all time).
In the existential comedy Bill Murray wakes up one day to live the same life over and over -the conceit of the film expertly safeguarded by a snowstorm, preventing him from easily going anywhere more interesting (Pittsburgh is a 90-minute drive, NYC four and a half hours and it’s safe to assume that anywhere would be more interesting than a town whose primary tourist draw is something that looks like it escaped from one of the nation’s finer cosmetics labs.)
Of course, living the same day over and over isn’t a problem if you’re in Tokyo or London, where one could “sure as heckfire” be swallowed up in fun hedonistic pursuits and lost in the crowd with fewer chance encounters with (one would hope), “Ned…Ned Ryerson!!”
Murray’s character grows increasing weary of small town existence after bedding all the eligible women (not many as it turns out – you’d be better off marooned in Vegas or LA). As in the modern vampire trope, immortality soon becomes wearisome as Murray’s Phil Connors experiences the in toto hell of small town living – knowing absolutely everything about everyone instead of merely more than you’d want to. He soon becomes perfectly adapted to his environment – as philosopher John Gray put it, “What could be more dreary than the perfection of mankind? The idea of progress is only the longing for immortality…”
Even a dream realized of no longer having to work, becomes a nightmare from which escape is impossible.
A line from the present Pennsylvania Groundhog Day celebration can be drawn to to Candlemas Day, an ancient festival marking the midpoint of winter, halfway between the shortest day and the spring equinox. In Germany, it was said that “For as the sun shines on Candlemas Day, so far will the snow swirl until May. For as the snow blows on Candlemas Day, so far will the sun shine before May.”
Germans brought their folklore (if not their animal – a hedgehog) to Pennsylvania and now, cities great and small have something furry whose prognostications could shame even the most shameless cold-reading “psychics” (as a point of interest, when the St Louis Zoo ran out of groundhogs, they conscripted a potbellied pig named Bacon, who sounds delicious and probably was, to cover the 96 forecast).
Other cultures have similar rituals. In Thailand and Cambodia, the Royal Plowing Ceremony involves hitching “sacred” oxen to a wooden plow and furrowing ceremonial ground while seeds are sown and the animals are given offerings of rice, corn, and strangely, rice whiskey. Depending on the chosen repast, astrologers predict whether the upcoming growing season will be a prosperous one and which of their livestock will have to 12-hoof it.
Of course, the equivalent call for an early spring would be met with indifference in two countries with damn-near perfect climates (at least to anyone hunkering down in an Ontario February, where it’s possible to freeze to death making a run for smokes).