One of the more commonly overlooked holiday complexes comes around Groundhog Day. It may seem strange to be thinking about spring right now, but it’s on everyone’s mind. (In this hemisphere anyway.) When seasons actually begin is a matter of perspective, and that’s not just a north-south hemisphere divide. With our scientific outlook, we take the path of equinoxes and solstices. If you look closely, however, there is a set of seasonal holidays that falls midway between them, dividing the year into eight spokes. These cross-quarter days were recognized in some cultures as the early inklings of a new season beginning. If Halloween (Samhain) marks the start of winter, this holiday, Imbolc, is the beginning of spring. The day had many associations, one of which was watching a groundhog (or other animal) to see if the weather would begin changing sooner or later. Spring itself is inevitable.
The popularity of Groundhog Day owes quite a bit to the movie of that name. The film is more complex than its classification as a comedy might suggest. Although the day itself does deal with the cyclical nature of, well, nature, repetition isn’t an inherent theme in the holiday. Neither is it part of the related Christian celebration of Candlemas. Indeed, I tend to think Groundhog Day has the makings of a horror story. Being stuck in time could represent a terrible fate for many. Interestingly, Phil Conners (Bill Murray), after having been stuck in this same day for a considerable amount of time, suggests to Rita Hanson (Andie MacDowell) that he might be a god. He is immortal and he knows everything that is to be known in Punxsutawney. He can predict things before they happen (of course, he has become Punxsutawney Phil, in a manner of speaking).
A philosophically rich movie, the story has appealed to adherents of several religions. That, in itself, is amazing. The endless repetition could represent samsara to those of south and east Asian religious inclination. The learning to be kind, and even forgiveness aspects, appeal to those who want to find a Christian message in it. Not bad for a holiday nobody gets off of work, and which frequently falls in the middle of the week. The holiday complex of Imbolc, Candlemas, and Groundhog Day represents what had once been a more prominent season than we currently recognize. Revivals of the more ancient celebrations have begun to appear, but the endless repetition so valued by capitalistic systems has nearly captured us all.
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