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Why I Love Groundhog Day

A Personal Perspective: An ode to a trivially wonderful holiday.

Maybe it's because like Bill Murray, Groundhog Day brings hope that I'll finally get it right. Or maybe it's the irony that such a trivial holiday can celebrate what's most needed in our technology-addled world, a reminder that no matter how hard we try, we can't escape nature. You never know. For me, it may just be a poignant anniversary of the day I remember waiting in Memorial Sloan Kettering, hoping and praying that the shadows wouldn't appear again on my mother's latest cancer scans.

Whatever it is, there's something charming, necessary, and playful about waiting to spy the shadow of a woodland creature who'd rather waddle away than be elevated like a prince by some strange bearded politician in a top hat. It's the ritual I most need around this time of year because it so humanizes the predicament we are all in: hoping for rebirth but constantly acknowledging the potential freeze of death.

Groundhog Day is a holiday of anticipated hope and acknowledged sorrow. What a contrast to the other surrounding holidays: the strange commercial pressure and at times toxic positivity of the Christmas season, the ambivalent juxtaposition of gratitude, sloth, and oppression that marks the Thanksgiving festivities, or our most recently aborted and well-intentioned resolutions of the new year.

Religiously speaking, here's what's factual about Groundhog Day. It was brought to the United States by the Pennsylvania Dutch as a celebration of a Germanic religious tradition and superstition that coincided with Candlemas. Candlemas is the commemoration of the 40th day after Jesus' birth when Jesus was brought to the Temple to perform the redemption of the firstborn and to complete the ritual purification of Mary.

It was traditional to have a procession of candles to showcase the light of the redemption that Jesus represented. You can see the echoes of this candle in the ways we eagerly await the possible light and shadow of the groundhog himself.

Many people have forgotten or lost touch with the original religious overtones of Groundhog Day. Instead, it's as if filmmaker Wes Anderson devised this ritual to mark the fumbling ambivalence of our modern condition, one that pokes fun at and glorifies us in one fell swoop.

A testament to enviable piety and pomp, dumb luck, and sheer vanity, Groundhog day is a conglomeration of so many registers, a tragicomic lottery that for one brief moment, holds us captive to the whims of a most ordinary and homely creature. How the tables are turned on this day, and yet, how much we reclaim our humanity in this comically epic ritual.

No matter which groundhog you take your predictions from, here's hoping for a bearable winter and a wonderful spring ahead.

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