Bill and I were at a gathering yesterday comprised of several hardy Irish individuals (North and Republic varietals), a few US blow ins, and one Canadian. As is perhaps unavoidable in such company, the conversation turned many times to the wacky idioms and customs of the other culture. “The whole world doesn’t know when Labor Day is, you know.” “How do they know when to stop wearing white?”
When the topic of Groundhog Day came up, someone asked, “Isn’t Groundhog Day a day when everything happens over and over again?” This person had never seen the movie, but knew the basic premise, so had only the reference of a day being lived over repeatedly. Our explanations of the true meaning of Groundhog Day made as little sense. We outlined the details: Shadow=More Winter; No Shadow=Spring Awakens. “Is there one groundhog?” “Yes. Punxsutawney Phil.”
“But what does it mean?” Once again we were being asked to speak for all America: What does it mean? Why does every person reared in the US know that Feb 2 is dedicated to an indigenous rodent who any other day is more likely to meet with a shotgun than a top hat? Maybe it comes from a farmer’s wisdom, based on the counterintuitive idea that sunny skies will actually delay spring? A young man from the heartland (i.e, Nebraska) enlightened us that it stems from a German festival. Eventually I waved my hand and said, “it is independent of all meaning.” Which to one person at least, spoke significantly of the philosophical notion of nothingness. And perhaps he has a point, I tend to look for reasons to celebrate, and to me the charm of Groundhog day is we observe GHD for no better reason than “Why not?”
We did explain that for Murray’s journalist character in GHD: The Movie, covering GHD is a ludicrous assignment, one of many non-news events that have to occur to maintain the fabric of society. The fact that this movie is potentially creating an idiom unmoored from its cultural reference is fascinating. Perhaps in the next decade persons in Ireland experiencing déjà vu will say, “Ah, I’m having a bit of the groundhog’s day.” Or for a particularly disturbing sense of the already seen, “Feck all, it’s the bleedin’ goundhog’s day!”
By the way, sorry about the six more weeks of winter!