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There are two kinds of holidays: official and cultural. Sometimes the two run together, and the official holiday blends with a cultural holiday. Otherwise, they’re two separate entities.
For most of these holidays, they do two things: remember the past and celebrate it. There’s one of them, however, that does something completely different. It not only looks to the past and honors tradition, it looks towards the future.
That day is Groundhog’s Day, a day that I believe to be the holiest of days.
You see, most people think that I’m kidding when I say that I love Groundhog’s Day. It’s a weird day to be in love with given its sheer absurdity. Every Feb. 2, hundreds of thousands of people watch a rodent named Phil come out of his hole to see whether he notices his shadow. If he does, then that means there will be six more weeks of winter. If he doesn’t, spring will be coming soon.
It’s an absurd holiday. Researching it only makes it seem even more absurd. The Inner Circle, the group of people who keep track of Punxsutawney Phil and host the annual event, claim that Phil is immortal. Seriously, they say it’s been the same groundhog since the inception of the holiday in 1886, which would make Phil at least 133 years old. Groundhogs typically have a lifespan of around six years. Moreover, there are a number of names for Phil, such as the Seer of Seers, the prognosticator of prognosticators and the most photographed Pennsylvanian. The Inner Circle claim that Phil is 100 percent correct, compared to the 70 percent accuracy that’s promised by your local weather person.
Beyond that, what drives my love for the day has to do with what separates it from all other holidays in the American tradition: its gaze toward the future. The day expresses an attempt to gain some measure of knowledge of the unknowable, and that makes it the most human thing that we can do.
No one knows what the next day will bring, much less the next six weeks. There is utter incomprehensibility when it comes to the future. A person will never know the moment they’re going to die, the moment a loved one will pass or even the next time they might trip right in front of their crush. And this indiscriminately chosen groundhog, supposedly immortal, is apparently able to predict the weather for the next six weeks?
This day is about that uncertainty brought about by our own ignorance. On Feb. 2, we seek sense in the meaninglessness that stems from the anxiety of ignorance and put our faith in Phil. That’s incredible, in my opinion.
Most holidays are meaningful in reference to the past, helping us to remember where we came from and the struggles we’ve endured. The struggle for labor rights, the struggle for racial equity or even the struggle to find love, — as Valentine’s Day is coming soon.
Groundhog’s Day is the only holiday that addresses the struggle for meaning in the face of the future. It’s about putting faith in things that may seem absurd, that may not make any sense at all, and trusting that things will be all right. That, in general, the future and world may be unknowable. But that doesn’t matter.
As my far more eloquent friend Ryan, the editor of this page, said to me while discussing the holiday, “Depending on how you look at it, we can either cynically dismiss Groundhog’s Day as a silly superstition that the advance of modernity will soon displace, or we can celebrate it as something fundamentally human, a reaction to and a reminder of our helplessness in this vast universe. But, we persist.”
Personally, I choose to persist, with the help of this beautiful ritual. I’ll place my trust in Phil, an immortal rodent that can see the future.
By: Kevin Thomas | Managing Editor