Why Groundhog Day must end

Published 10:07 am Friday, February 3, 2017

[Editor’s Note: A version of this column was originally published in 2007.]

by Tom Purcell

Punxsutawney Phil must be stopped.

You know Phil. Every Feb. 2, Groundhog Day, he is yanked from a tree stump in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. If he sees his shadow, his organizers allege, there will be six more weeks of winter. If he doesn’t, spring will be just around the corner.

Millions have enjoyed this primitive ritual for years, but now there’s a problem.

Groundhog Day evolved from Candlemas Day, a Christian tradition commemorating the purification of the Virgin Mary. As this tradition evolved in Germany, it got ever more colorful.

Germans soon believed that Candlemas Day could also predict the weather. Somewhere along the line they began yanking a hedgehog out of a tree stump, and the tradition was born. When German immigrants settled in Punxsutawney in 1887, they brought the tradition with them.

Now we have a problem.

How, in this day and age, can any government body impose on our diverse society any celebration that has its roots in a Christian faith? Aren’t the people of Punxsutawney providing their de facto support of one religion over the others? Isn’t their outmoded event offensive to those who practice no religion?

Isn’t this annual event, then, out of sync with the American tradition of separating church and state? If Santa Claus and Christmas trees are being banished in public squares, how can Groundhog Day not follow suit?

Groundhog Day is guilty of numerous other offenses. In Punxsutawney, the event is managed by a group of men known as the “Inner Circle.” These are the fellows who wear top hats and tuxedos and yank Phil out of the tree stump.

As usual, it is the men who are exploiting a helpless little creature for profit and greed, and men who have kept women out of leadership positions within their Inner Circle clique.

The hypocrisy of these allegedly Christian fellows is staggering. They talk of how they pamper Phil. That he lives in a heated home and is fed delicious treats. But then they boast about one especially disgusting tidbit.

Phil has a harem.

The Inner Circle provides Phil with three nubile female companions to take the edge off his lonely bachelor existence. That’s right, this band of middle-aged men is trafficking in “woodchucks of the night.”

For these reasons, I cannot understand how, in these progressive times, such an offensive primitive ritual continues to be celebrated every year.

Sure, I understand that small-minded people believe such traditions enrich our lives and bring levity to the hearts of millions.

I understand that American traditions evolved from a hodgepodge of cultural influences, and that the best of them celebrate our common humanity.

But still, Groundhog Day as we know it must end — or at least be drastically modified.

For starters, we must set Phil free. No innocent animal should be kept in captivity so that he can be exploited by greedy capitalists. We must release him back to his natural habitat immediately.

We can replace him with a less offensive living entity, such as a tree or shrub. Trees and shrubs cast shadows, too, and holding them in captivity is much more humane, since their roots keep them from roaming freely anyhow. (“Groundshrub Day?”)

Most important, this event should be entirely secular. Any reference to the Christian past must be deleted from the official Web site. I was shocked to find such references on the existing Groundhog Day Web site.

I’m confident that if the men in the Inner Circle make these needed changes — if they begin admitting women to leadership positions immediately — the Groundshrub Day tradition will continue for many years to come.

If they don’t someone is likely to take these suggestions seriously and file suit within the week.

TOM PURCELL, author of “Misadventures of a 1970’s Childhood” and “Wicked Is the Whiskey,” a Sean McClanahan mystery novel, both available at Amazon.com, is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist and is nationally syndicated exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc. Send comments to Tom at Tom@TomPurcell.com.