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Peace, love and Punxsutawney

| Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Earlier this semester, I was updating the wall calendar at my on-campus job, when Obed Antwi-Baidoo, a first-year from Ghana, came over and asked me what Groundhog Day is. As I explained the traditions surrounding our favorite rodent Punxsutawney Phil, a look of confusion came over Obed’s face. 

“You’re meaning to tell me,” he started, briefly pausing before continuing, “Americans get their weather… from a hog?”

A big fan of the often-overlooked holiday, I laughed and explained to him that in my personal opinion, the tradition is less about predicting weather — the temperature will be the temperature no matter which season Phil decides to name it — and more about celebrating silliness.

I first watched the Groundhog Celebration with my mother when I was still in middle school. Passing down to me her love for people who take ridiculous things ultra seriously, my mother beckoned me to her computer, telling me to enjoy the production being made over a ground squirrel’s shadow. Just as I enjoyed watching the almost campy pomp and circumstance then, I still love the comically serious solemnity with which the event is approached.

For those who weren’t as clever as I was in using my snow day to watch the celebration live, here are a few highlights from this year’s ceremony for the prognosticator of prognosticators (their words, not mine):

1. Great nicknames

Each jolly, top hat sporting man in the “rain makin’, downpourin’, day breakin’, shingle shakin’ inner circle” of PGC (Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, for those not in the know) is introduced with a jaunty little nickname. My favorites included “Moonshine,” “O-Zone,” “Thunder Conductor” and “Big Chill.” Just Google Butch Philliber and tell me it doesn’t bring you joy to know that he goes by “Iceman.”

2. Peace, love and Punxsutawney?

The president, a.k.a. “Fair Weatherman,” compared the biggest midweek crowd in Groundhog Day history to Woodstock, adding, “You people are proving something to the world: that 10,000 people can get together at 3 o’clock in the morning and have fun and music and nothing but fun and music! And we God bless you for it!”

Ah yes, the Gobbler’s Knob Groundhog Day celebration. The closest thing we have to a modern-day Woodstock.

3. Global gobblers

Shortly after the comparison to Woodstock, the president announced nearly every country in the world was represented in the crowd. To think, poor Obed was one of the few Ghanaians who hadn’t previously made the trek to Gobbler’s Knob. 

4. Sensitive large men

Big, burly, bearded men in top hats and bow ties waved carefully designed floral printed signs that read “Think Spring!” Once winter was announced, the sign was quickly flipped to “We <3 Old Man Winter.” 

5. Intimate interspecies bonds

After retrieving Punxsutawney Phil from his burrow, the handler (“Rainmaker” A.J. Dereume) victoriously waved Punxsutawney Phil overhead, tightly holding on with one hand. Once Phil was put down, the president shyly whispered, “You look… you look beautiful today.”

6. Punxsutawney Phil is surprisingly poetic

In the scroll found in his burrow as his written declaration of winter’s continuation, Phil wrote, “Winter has been bleak and dark and bereft of hope. Yet winter is just another step in the cycle of life. As I look out over the faces of the true believers from around the world, I bask in the warmth of your hearts.” A groundhog uses the word “bereft.”

7. A twice-repeated reminder that “for those who want to stay, we stay as looong as necessary to get [everyone’s] picture with Phil.”

They’re for the people, that PGC Inner Circle.

Watching the Gobbler’s Knob broadcast, I was shocked more people don’t tune in for this yearly delight of sincere, earnest absurdity. To me, Groundhog Day is more than just a silly way to break up the monotony of everyday life. Or perhaps the real importance of it is that it isn’t. It’s just good ol’ fashioned, Woodstock-esque fun. The importance doesn’t come from the act of pulling a rodent out of its stump and asking it to predict the seasons. The importance comes simply from the people whose belief wills it into being so. 

The crowd wearing their crochet groundhog hats, the reporter crouched with his microphone next to Phil’s snout, the 95-year-old Inner Circle member who’s made the 160-meter procession enough times that he’s now logged 5.5 miles just walking to the stage — they all care that this day matters, so it does. And in a world that too often seems to alternate only between jaded and outraged, how refreshing it is to care about something for which the stakes are so low. 

At work, team point recounts were held to determine who won an Evil Czech brunch, and more than once, employees have come close to blows over the results of Taboo. My first year of college, my best friend wanted to know which Hemsworth brother people found more attractive, so she and I systematically conducted a survey of more than 250 Notre Dame students. Even in terms of Notre Dame traditions, the gravity with which we understand the importance of not walking on the Main Building steps or accidentally traversing God Quad is almost comedic. 

There’s something endearing about a person who takes their tasks so seriously, something kind of cool about being so passionate you assume everyone else is just as invested as you are. It’s contagious. It’s exciting and fun to buy in all the way, to approach every hatched plan like it’s necessary to national security. For all I know, that Groundhog Day president may have been right, and every last country was gathered in a small Pennsylvania town this past Wednesday. But even if they weren’t, it doesn’t matter. The whole world was in Gobbler’s Knob, as far as the Punxsutawney Groundhog Council was concerned.

Julianna Conley is a senior studying sociology and pre-health studies with a minor in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. Though she is forever loyal to Pasquerilla East B-team athletics, Julianna now lives off campus. She can be reached for comment at [email protected] or @JuliannaLConley on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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