February is the worst month and everybody knows it. The awkward number of days, the wretched weather. Even the way it’s spelled is irritating.
Yet just when you think your raging Seasonal Affective Disorder will get the best of you, February, of all months, offers a break in the bleakness that’s been indomitable since New Year’s. It’s absurd, hokey and best of all, like the Pennsylvania Dutch who invented it, immune to politics. Which is why Groundhog Day should be a national holiday instead of just a regional one.
Groundhog Day seemed like a big deal when I was a kid. On the morning of February 2, we’d have the local news on while we got ready for school and the weatherman would report live from Gobbler’s Knob, where people had been huddled since the night before awaiting dawn and the emergence of Punxsutawney Phil and his official prognostication. I wondered back then how those people stayed warm for so many hours. Then I grew up, went to Gobbler’s Knob and found out why alcohol had to be banned from the premises.
Groundhog Day is extra special to me because, in addition to getting bonus points on my spelling quiz if I correctly predicted if Phil would see his shadow or not, I also attended the University of Dallas, where the signature event of the year is “Groundhog.” The legend goes that the “smokers, drinkers and independent thinkers” (how we nerds like to think of ourselves) were so burdened by their studies that they asked the college president for a day off like other students had. He told them it was their job to establish a tradition, to “think of something to celebrate — celebrate Groundhog Day, for instance — but whatever you do, do it with style.”
The students took him literally, and sixty years later, students, faculty, staff and alumni gather for a Gobbler’s Knob-style party in Irving, Texas (where alcohol is NOT banned). Both events involve live music, bonfires, wholesome fellowship and most importantly, something to lift your spirits out of the repetitive winter doldrums the classic Bill Murray movie captures so well.
Groundhog Day and its chubby, prophetic varmint remind us there is always a way to make life amusing and fun and free from the sociopolitical stressors that bring us down. This sacred day is also proof that, when life hands you six more weeks of winter, with a few dozen friends, lively music and enough wine, it can still be enjoyable. Even in February.
This article was originally published in The Spectator’s February 2024 World edition.