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Tom Purcell

Tom Purcell: Lighten up, critics, it's Groundhog Day

| Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018, 9:00 p.m.
Groundhog Club handler Ron Ploucha, left, holds Punxsutawney Phil, the weather-prognosticating groundhog, during the 129th celebration of Groundhog Day on Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney. (AP Photo | Gene J. Puskar)
Groundhog Club handler Ron Ploucha, left, holds Punxsutawney Phil, the weather-prognosticating groundhog, during the 129th celebration of Groundhog Day on Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney. (AP Photo | Gene J. Puskar)

If I were Punxsutawney Phil, I might think twice before coming out of my burrow this year.

Groundhog Day 2018 is upon us. Every Feb. 2, Phil emerges from a stump in Punxsutawney. If he sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter. If he doesn't, spring will be just around the corner. Millions have enjoyed this ritual for years, but in these oh-so-serious times, problems may abound.

For starters, Groundhog Day evolved from Candlemas Day, a Christian holy day commemorating the Virgin Mary's purification. As this tradition evolved in Germany, Germans believed Candlemas Day could also predict the weather — which culminated with playfully pulling a hedgehog out of a tree stump. The tradition was brought to Punxsutawney in 1887 by German immigrants.

But how, some busybody critics may be thinking, can any government body impose on our diverse society any celebration that has its roots in Christianity? Aren't the people of Punxsutawney supporting one religion over the others? What about their insensitivity to atheists?

Other critics may complain that the event is too male-centric. The “Inner Circle,” the “local dignitaries responsible for carrying on the tradition of Groundhog Day every year,” is comprised of only men. Critics may note that all weather-prediction responsibilities for the past 132 years have been assigned to a male groundhog. What about Punxsutawney Phyllis? Has she been too busy making Phil's coffee?

The Inner Circle talks of how it pampers Phil. He lives in a heated home. He's fed delicious treats. He receives excellent medical care. But People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals says Phil is being abused — that yanking a groundhog out of a stump before bright lights and a large crowd induces incredible stress. PETA wants an animatronic groundhog to replace Phil.

All such criticism will pale in comparison to what may happen if critics learn this tidbit about Phil's private life: Phil has a harem. To take the edge off of Phil's lonely bachelor existence, the Inner Circle provides him with three female companions. That's right: Punxsutawney's finest dignitaries are trafficking in “woodchucks of the night”!

I, like millions of others, greatly enjoy Groundhog Day. I believe such traditions enrich our world and bring much-needed levity to our chaotic lives. I believe many American traditions evolved from a hodgepodge of cultural influences, and the best celebrate our common humanity — rather than pull us apart. I believe too many of us take ourselves too seriously. As we seek to correct the imperfections of our past — to embrace everyone and offend no one — we sometimes end up lost in the narrowness of our own best intentions.

It's Groundhog Day, a lighthearted occasion that offers a respite from a long, cold, brutal winter. Aside from PETA's protestations, I'm joking about Phil's potential critics, but we all could use a little lightening up about now.

Which is the whole point of Groundhog Day.

Tom Purcell, a freelance writer, lives in Library. His books include “Misadventures of a 1970s Childhood” and “Wicked Is the Whiskey,” a Sean McClanahan mystery. Visit him on the web at Email him at:

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