54. Groundhog’s Day

I was talking with a first grader about shadows, and I mentioned Groundhog’s Day. He said he had seen it, and he liked it, but he didn’t understand why the guy kept trying to kill himself. Fortunately, I had seen the movie with Bill Murray. Unfortunately, the child had seen it. I tried to think of scenes in the movie that were appropriate for children. There were a few, I guess, and in fact, it was easier to think about a child seeing that movie than many movies children see. But it was not the best way to hand down a tradition that has always meant so much to me over the years.
Groundhog’s Day has been my favorite holiday for years. I’m Jewish, and Christmas always makes me feel like an outsider. Halloween has too much sugar, and brings out the greed in children. I enjoy Passover and Thanksgiving, but they don’t give me hope the way Groundhog’s Day does. Think about it. If he doesn’t see his shadow, we have an early spring, and if he does, we have six more weeks of winter. That would bring us to March 16. I wouldn’t mind waiting until March 16 for spring. This is New England. Either way, we win.
Children get so excited the first time it snows. So do many teachers. It’s a magical moment. Pretty, fluffy things are falling out of the sky! Nature is doing something dramatic, and children haven’t seen it do that since they were “little.” They want to go outside right away, and it’s not unheard of for some teachers to let them have an early recess, or at least let them stand by the window for a while. There’s a buzz throughout the school. Some are thinking of holidays, some of skiing, some of “no school” days, some of snowball fights. The dreams of early winter are filled with merriment.
But the excitement doesn’t last. Soon children and teachers recall that besides being pretty occasionally, winter is fairly reliably cold. Teachers who have been keeping children in from recess as a punishment find that it isn’t so effective any more. Cabin fever sets in. Children who already had trouble concentrating have more trouble. Children who didn’t before do now. The problem isn’t insurmountable, but it’s there. It happens to adults, too, but children haven’t yet learned the fine art of repression.
We all cope, one way or another. My way of coping has been to take February 2 seriously. I know it’s irrational, but whether we hang stockings for Santa to fill, open the door for Elijah to come in, or put teeth under pillows, most of us have our little myths we cling to. And so, I get through the first six weeks of winter waiting for February 2. I do whatever I can to stay cheerful, but warm weather would sure help. And then a little creature comes out of a hole in the ground, and I know, despite all evidence to the contrary, that Canada geese are headed up here, crocuses are pushing upward, and the highway department is getting ready to patch up potholes.
Happy Groundhog’s Day!

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