By: Kyla Van Buren and Sybil Levine
The start of school is exciting and all, but there’s nothing like a great end to winter break. On the way back to Oberlin, the two of us (Kyla and Sybil) went on an adventure to celebrate Groundhog Day and have one last hurrah before putting our noses to the grind. While February 2 may have come and gone, the two of us are still reliving the celebration in our head. If you had been there with us, you would feel this way too. Let us explain.
Neither of us are from anywhere near Punxsutawney, PA, nor were we previously familiar with the purpose of this little town: Groundhog Day celebration central. One of our friends had been a number of times and was always extremely enthusiastic when he told us, “You should come to Groundhog Day!” Thinking back, he never said much more about it than that. Yet somehow he managed to get us pumped up for this mysterious holiday and before we knew it, we were driving to Smalltown, USA, with groundhogs on every street corner.
While we didn’t know much about the celebration of Groundhog Day, we weren’t entirely clueless. We knew that every year the groundhog looks for its shadow to determine if there will be six more weeks of winter or an early spring. We were told that we would be up all night waiting for the groundhog to do this, but we didn’t know when it would happen or what we would be doing while we waited. When we arrived in Punxsutawney, shortly before 10 pm on February 1, we learned that the groundhog’s prognostication occurs at the break of dawn. It was going to be a long night. We expected it to be cold, but it wasn’t until we got out of the car to meet our friend that we realized what kind of cold we were going to be dealing with.
It was a dry cold — colder than any cold we’d felt this year. It wasn’t snowing, really, but little frozen water particles were glittering in the air. It was a cold so cold that it reminded us that freezing temperatures themselves can be force of nature; a cold so cold that we could only face it wearing 5 full layers (collectively) plus 5 shirts, 2 pairs of gloves, and 2 extra pairs of socks… and even then we were still cold.
The strangest part about all of this was that no one seemed to be bothered by the fact that we were going to be spending so much time out in this weather. Indeed, it seemed to be part of the celebration.
So how, you ask, did we end up spending our time?
Well, after layering up, we got a bite to eat at a 24 hour pizza place. Apparently it was the spot for the night, and there we saw many a character including someone walking by in a groundhog suit, people with stuffed groundhogs on their heads, and a guy in a top hat with a thick dark mustache who asked a lanky teen if he “had the CD.” It was the coy way he took it and slid it into his briefcase that caught our attention, but we let it go as our friends brought up the subject of the groundhog drop – a tradition where a groundhog is dropped at midnight to mark the start of Groundhog Day. What kind of groundhog, you ask? Is it alive, you ask? We asked ourselves these questions too.
Seeing that we only had 10 minutes to finish our pizza, re-layer up, and get to the groundhog drop all the way over at the Punxsutawney Weather Discovery Center, we began rushing so we wouldn’t miss the excitement. We quickly followed our friend out the door and down the street – not even down the entire street, just past two buildings – and stopped. There was the crowd. That was when we realized Punxsutawney, PA is just about twice the size of downtown Oberlin.
Throughout the night we met a lot of people, some of whom had never been before and some of whom had been a dozen times and more. Despite the protests of the veterans who claimed staying up all night was part of the tradition, we insisted on taking a nap…for three hours. This turned out to make all the difference — mainly because you don’t think about how frozen your toes are when you’re asleep. At four in the morning, oddly revived, we bundled up again and bought a round trip bus ticket to Gobbler’s Knob: the hill conveniently shaped like an outdoor amphitheater where Punxsutawney Phil sleeps. It was like any other classic school bus experience – people were giggly and talkative, and when someone broke out in a chant of “PHIL. PHIL. PHIL. PHIL.”, we all joined in.
At the Knob there was a mass of people huddled around a bonfire, which immediately drew us in like bugs to a bright light. While trying to break into the crowd, it became clear we weren’t going to make it to the heat, so we sought warmth in another giant crowd, just yards away.
This crowd was gathered around a stage which served as a platform for embarrassing pre-event entertainment: t(w)een girls in complementing pastel-colored hoodies danced, two kids provided some hoedown music, and then the mystery mustache man with the top hat appeared! And – nuh-uh, no he di’in’t! – yes, gurl, yes he did – he did perform “Groundhog Style,” a rendition of “Gangham Style” and it was painfully awkward, especially because the crowd was really into it.
Of all the celebrations that preceded the prognostication, nothing topped the crowd’s excitement more than the celebratory fireworks. Yes, it was still dark outside, which, as we all know, is prime firework time, but have you ever shot fireworks off at 6:30 in the morning? And have they ever been set to the theme music for STAR WARS??! I’m talking about listening to the all the top songs of the Star Wars series – songs like the Imperial March and the Sith Theme – with fireworks booming along. Needless to say, that may have been the most unexpectedly marvelous moments of our lives.
And then it was time. At 7:28 am on February 2, President Deeley, the President of the Groundhog Club, awakened to communicate with Punxsutawney Phil, turned to us, and declared,
“And so ye faithful,
there is no shadow to see
An early Spring for you and me.”
(see the full text at http://www.groundhog.org/)
Gobbler’s Knob erupted in cheers. We looked over to the person next to us and asked, “So what do we do now?” He stared straight back and said, “Run.”
We had only a moment to look from him to one another before the crowd began to disperse.
And that was it; it was over. The culmination point of the entire holiday had come and gone in the moment it took for it to turn from night to day. As we walked back toward Punxsutawney, we overheard the conversation of two Groundhog Day veterans:
Veteran #2: “No, it’s about the weather.”
Veteran #1: “Well, yeah, that’s true. But wasn’t that all that we were doing? Just waiting around the whole night?”
Veteran #2: “I wasn’t waiting. Let’s see… I was walking, talking, hanging out with friends, shivering… but no. Definitely not waiting.”
Groundhog Day turned out to be an exercise in making the most of our time. Maybe it’s just like life – a span of time that we’re all trying to fill. We could spend it waiting around, anticipating, thinking, focusing on how we’re going to spend our days or we could live. Life is what you make of it, and that phrase is embodied in the celebration of Groundhog Day. They do it big in Punxsutawney.
We’ll leave you with a few more groundhogs…