A Plea for More Holidays

by Mark Blackwell

Well, here we are in the dark days of winter. And, after the big trio of holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years, the months of January and February seem even darker. This is a recipe for gloom, misery, and despair. It is no wonder that folks who live in the north, who can afford it, take off for Florida. I would head down to Miami myself, if for no other reason, than to be one of the youngest people in town. But I think the real problem is that we don’t have enough holidays.

There is nothing to look forward to except limited sunlight and cold weather for months. When I was a kid we still had George Washington’s Birthday in February—school was closed, banks were closed, sales were held. It was a day off in the middle of the dreariest part of the year. But then it got consolidated and downgraded into President’s Day. Now we honor James K. Polk and Chester A. Arthur, and a lot of other losers, along with Washington. I suspect that’s why the day just gets ignored by everybodyexcept bankers and Federal employees.

It seems to me, that as time goes on, we are getting stingier with our holidays. Even back in the Dark Ages they had a lot more days of celebration. Its true there was a lot of squalor, disease, and ignorance but Christmas used to last a full twelve days. There used to be a Saint’s day every whipstitch and folks held on to the old pagan festivals. Nobody celebrates Beltane, Lammas, or Candlemas anymore. Actually, Candlemas was celebrated on February 2nd and somehow, morphed into Groundhog Day.

We need another holiday to break up the long winter stretch from New Year’s Day to Easter and Groundhog Day is perfectly situated for the purpose. But nobody, except some folks in Pennsylvania, takes it seriously. I think it is time to elevate the celebration to national prominence. I propose that Groundhog Day be declared a national holiday.

Everybody already knows about Groundhog Day—there’s even a movie about it. It celebrates a positive human attribute—hopefulness. It recognizes a benign mammal, common to the Eastern United States. Nobody is required to give gifts. According to The Penguin Dictionary of American Folklore “…its observance consists of watching a groundhog (woodchuck) come out of its burrow, presumably to check the weather. If the sun is shining and the groundhog sees its shadow, one can be sure of six more weeks of winter.”

So far, so good. This would be a seriously low stress day off. But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be fun. Outdoor types could organize expeditions to rural areas to seek out groundhog dens. On college campuses political folks could hold groundhog teach-ins. There could be family, neighborhood, and/or village celebrations. People could dress-up in groundhog costumes. Shadow-puppet shows would be appropriate. We could organize wood chucking contests. Newspapers could sponsor essay and poetry competitions. It could be a great opportunity for nonpartisan political oration.

Some folks still cling to the outdated notion that the groundhog is a varmint. However, these benighted few are living in the past. They dwell in a time when the American economy had an agricultural base and a surplus population of groundhogs could do some measurable crop damage. But our nation has moved on to the twenty-first century and we now have an information economy. And I can’t see groundhogs posing any concrete threat to information.

We must begin to reappraise the groundhog in the light of modernity. I venture to say that there are many young people who have never had an encounter with one of these shy, sensitive creatures. Groundhogs, unlike rats, deer, coyotes, skunks, and raccoons do not seek urban environments. They prefer their humble rural burrows, living much like marmot versions of Hobbits.

It is a puzzlement as to why the groundhog has not been employed as a character in a fable or two because they are the very embodiment of virtue—they mind their own business, they are not aggressive, and they do not proselytize their religious or political views to others. They are quiet and dignified. And they have much to teach us about how to handle winter. If we would only follow the groundhog in learning how to hibernate, we could solve many problems.

If humans learned to hibernate we could cut carbon emissions by at least a third. Heart attacks from shoveling snow would be a thing of the past. States and municipalities could save money now spent on sand and salt for roads. And it wouldn’t matter if we set our clocks back or not.

So, there you have it, my humble plea for people to come to their senses and elevate Groundhog Day to the status it deserves. I know that it won’t happen overnight. It will take time and energy. We will need to lobby our politicians. We will have to mobilize, organize, and demonstrate. Nothing great was ever gained without a struggle. And we must not waver lest some sleazy politico proposes to make Groundhog Day the first Monday in February. “The 2nd of February or fight,” must be our motto.

I can conceive of no better place to begin the campaign for National Groundhog Day than right here in Brown County. For our county is home to countless groundhogs. And I can think of no better people to press this cause of liberty than the folks who live here. So, let’s make Groundhog Day special this year and keep it in our hearts all year long.

Note: Please don’t refer to groundhogs as woodchucks. They don’t chuck wood and they find the term demeaning.