An Atheist Ponders Groundhog Day

Share on Facebook0Tweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+0Share on Reddit0Share on Tumblr0Email this to someone

I’m from Pennsylvania. I can actually point to Punxsutawney on a map. It is common knowledge that if Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow, we’ll have six more weeks of winter. Groundhog Day is an exciting tradition that we recognize and discuss every year.

And it is absolutely absurd.

In case you’re curious, he did see it today. Hunker down, folks, it’s not getting warm anytime soon!

Let’s clear a few things up. First, I’ll turn to comedian Steve Hofstetter. You might remember him from his quest way back in 2005 to get 10,000 (and then 100,000) Facebook friends. I helped him, and he gave me a CD. This is an excerpt from that CD (recorded 2004):

My favorite February holiday is Groundhog’s Day… Groundhog’s Day is the stupidest holiday in the history of holidays, and there are some stupid ones, but Groundhog’s Day wins. Because the theory behind Groundhog’s Day is that if the groundhog comes out of his cave we get six more weeks of winter, and if he stays in his cave, we get six more weeks of winter. And that groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, is supposedly 119 years old. The average lifespan of a groundhog: 12 years. This is the Moses of groundhogs. He comes out, he’s like, “I will part the winter!”

I actually thinks it’s ridiculous because in this country, we have a problem believing in a lot of things, and there are a lot of people who don’t believe in God but they believe in an immortal groundhog that predicts the weather.

Well, Steve, I don’t believe in God.

And I’ll say it now and here:  I don’t believe in Punxsutawney Phil either.

But I have to admit that my belief in Groundhog Day was one of the harder beliefs to let go of, even moreso than God and the Trinity and all that stuff. Why? Because it’s far less likely that many folks actually believe in Punxsutawney Phil. So, knowing that it’s a belief that (almost) no one takes too seriously, it was much harder to leave behind. Christianity is bizarre and scary; I had no problems getting away from that quite quickly and never looking back.

Groundhog Day is really just the ultimate placebo for Seasonal Affective Disorder. Think about it. Winter is not that pleasant here in Pennsylvania (we always joke about Halloween costumes having to fit over snowsuits and such). So, if it’s a sunny day, we’re happy and optimistic, and then Phil sees his shadow, which actually means we have to channel that happiness from the sun into persevering the rest of winter. If it’s not a sunny day, our mood might be similarly bleak, but when Phil doesn’t see his shadow, then it’s a pick-me-up to know that winter is almost over.

Either way, winter ends March 20th.

As an atheist, it’s easy to look at Groundhog Day and see the simple and innocent appeal beliefs have. Punxsutawney Phil helps people see the light at the end of the tunnel of winter, one way or another.

But Phil is also Lebanon bologna (another PA reference for youns guys). He could be a crutch for folks to avoid summoning their inner strength to stay positive during the winter. He also discourages accurate understanding of meteorological phenomena. This may sound absurd, but it’s not when you think that many people probably trust Punxsutawney Phil more than they do their local weatherperson.

Phil or no Phil, the days will get longer and warmer over the next few months, and that’s a wonderful thing to look forward to.

It’s even better knowing that I’ll spend those next few months (and many months after them) thinking rationally about the world.

Share on Facebook0Tweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+0Share on Reddit0Share on Tumblr0Email this to someone
Back to Top | Scroll down for Comments!

There are 6 Comments to "An Atheist Ponders Groundhog Day"

  • That’s not even how the myth goes. It’s not whether the groundhog comes out; it’s whether, when he comes out, he sees his shadow. If it’s sunny, he will. If it’s cloudy, he won’t. It really has nothing to do with the groundhog and everything to do with the weather on the day in the middle of winter.
    I’ve never met anyone who ever thought this is was at all predictive of the weather. Not even superstitious people. Maybe it’s a PA thing. I love the holiday because of the film about it.

  • ZackFord says:

    Steve Hofstetter did not describe it exactly right, but I did.

    It’s definitely a PA thing. You should see how seriously people take it, especially the closer to NW PA (Punxsutawney) you get. A lot of folks wouldn’t even think of the film right away when thinking of the holiday.

  • Buffy says:

    I lived on the East coast up until two years ago, though never in PA.   Groundhog Day and Phil were annual events on the news, even when I lived as far as 400 miles from the official goings-on.   Now that I’m in CA I don’t hear anything about it.   I wonder if it’s more that I’m away from the East coast, or that we’re not buried in snow here, so don’t feel the need for that annual ritual.

  • tom says:

    Dude, pick your battles. Groundhog Day? Really. Let the little fat furry bastard have his day in the sun (or lack there of) and let the people who enjoy the goofiness and small town sweetness of the day have their moment too. You’ve got bigger rodents to fry.

    • ZackFord says:

      It’s just food for thought. And I wrote it last year (2010). I’m just reposting today because it’s relevant.

      And for the record, I think any mass embrace of superstition is worth picking apart in the context of skepticism. Just because it’s harmless doesn’t mean that it should be treated like it has intellectual integrity.

Write a Comment