Thursday, February 2, 2012

Down with Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day has always been kind of a stupid holiday. Far be it from me to try to tear down long-established traditions, but sometimes they really do lose their currency. I like to think that in the latter half of the twentieth century, no adult human has ever really believed that a fat rodent in Western Pennsylvania can accurately predict the duration of winter, but I’m sure that living in Punxsutawney on this day must be exciting, and that Groundhog Day can be a fun way to bring people together to either celebrate or deride the shared experience of late-winter weather.

Phil saw his shadow today, meaning six more weeks of winter and raising the one-word question in my mind: “More?” How about just six solid weeks of winter? In five weeks in Western New York, I’ve experienced the beginning of spring twelve times. Unseasonably warm temperatures have been the norm throughout the northeast this year, so why would anybody care what a groundhog has to say about the duration of whatever the hell season we’re currently in?

There’s got to be a breaking point when the reality no longer matches the historical expectations. There will be more years like this one as the climate continues to warm unchecked. You’d think that the disorienting continuity between the weather we’re having and the weather we’re looking forward to would have some effect on people. I’d think that Groundhog Day would make it difficult to ignore global warming or to pretend that it’s not happening. I would think that people would start to change their standards regarding what kind of weather they should dread, but begging for the end of winter and looking forward to summer are so ingrained in our behavior that the crowd still jeers when Phil hits the snooze button. The very fact that the northern hemisphere ever tilts away from the sun is apparently reason enough to complain.

It’s not the continuance of winter that we should be complaining about; it’s its absence. What is it going to take for people to realize that? Is the groundhog going to have to stop hibernating altogether before we drop our old traditions and realize that the world is changing so much faster than we are?

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