2013 marks the twentieth anniversary of the film Groundhog Day, directed by Harold Ramis and starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell. Since the movie’s release, the real-life holiday has been inextricably linked with Sonny, Cher, and temporal disturbances. But there’s more to Groundhog Day than Groundhog Day, isn’t there?
There is. I’ve taken some time away from my own celebrations to compile here a few interesting Harold Ramis-free Groundhog Day Facts. Enjoy!
Groundhog Day began during the trial of Charles I in 1649, when Londoners literally ground their hogs as a demonstration against the king.
In Australia, where the Australian Groundhog has been hunted to extinction, Groundhog Day celebrants instead employ a baby ostrich. On the morning of February 2nd, “Mundubbera Nancy” is released from her silver cage in front of hundreds of spectators and live TV cameras. If Nancy sees her shadow—so the superstition goes—then summer will last three more weeks, and the Coriolis effect will temporarily reverse.
The Mormon faith discourages the celebration of Groundhog Day due to its association with fortune-telling. But a secret tradition exists among Mormon youths: On the evening of February 1st, all the Mormon kids in a community will meet up for a “study group”. The group piles into an older kid’s van and takes a roundabout route not to the library, but to the local cemetery, where a picnic blanket is laid out, dirty stories are swapped, and Kool-Aid flows freely.
The celebration is over well before midnight, and therefore doesn’t technically fall on the calendar date of Groundhog Day. But the solemnity of the occasion is preserved as teens “pour one out” for their Mormon ancestors and sometimes ask their spirits for advice.
In Russia and eastern Europe, the oracular groundhog is reimagined as a humanoid “Marmot-King” (usually the town mayor wearing a furry costume) who is presented with a calendar for inspection. The character spends the day in mock deliberation, receiving “bribes” from the locals in the form of baked goods. By sunset, the Marmot-King invariably approves the calendar and allows the current year to continue.
Buenos Aires famously banned Groundhog Day on the “grounds” that it “hogs” the day, distracting from observances of the city’s 1536 founding.
Small mammals are not readily available in many parts of the rapidly urbanizing People’s Republic of China, and so Chinese children spend the second of February climbing out of cardboard boxes and looking for their own shadows. Infrequently one such child will be unable to find his or her shadow, and will require medical attention. While an affected individual is likely to live to adulthood, the shadow will never return. The cause behind these wú xíng yǐng or “invisible shadows” remains a mystery.