Remember when you would find a dollar under your pillow when you left a tooth there the night before? Discovering chocolate eggs scattered around the house? Gifts under the tree, left behind by someone named S.C? The Norwood Thanksgiving Fair? What about the first time you scored Britney Spears tickets!? Something extraordinary happens. Something that you don’t fully understand. You just buy into it, and believe it with your full heart. Even when you are let in on the secrets. There’s feelings of excitement, of curiosity, of wonder. It’s magic really.
And that is exactly how I would describe Groundhog Day.
In my family, we always acknowledged Groundhog Day. During my first year at University, our mascot was the Groundhog (We’re Ghogs! Ghogs! We like it on the bottom!), so I feel an increased connection to February 2. When we moved to Pennsylvania two years ago, it just felt that it was time to
fly Eagles fly do GHD proper, to cross it off the bucket list, and visit the Weather Capital of the World, Punxsutawney PA.
It’s April 2017, and I think I’m planning well ahead. I call every hotel and B&B in the Punx PA area: “Hi! Can I book a room for GHD 2018?”… Silence. Muffled laughter. “Uh, sorry sir.” Turns out rooms book up for the following year by end of day February 3.
I email a few places randomly (desperately) pleading the case of the Canadian living in America, promising we’re good people, hoping to end up somewhere on their waitlist. I don’t hear anything. Disappointed, we carry on with our lives, living in a shadow that felt like an eternity of winter.
November 30, 2017, 8:51:17AM EST: I receive an email from Julie at the Plantation B&B. A room has come up. I call her immediately. There’s a 3 night GHD package, and we say yes (I say yes, then ask Derrick afterwards). Can you believe it?! We are going to Punx PA for GHD! With everyone I talk to that
day week month, I blurt out “We’re going to Groundhog Day!!!! AAHHH!!!” I was seriously feeling some early spring twitterpation. I receive variations on the following 3 reactions: “Oh. That’s nice. When is Groundhog Day again?”, or “THAT IS AMAZING”, or “Whhhhhhhy would you evvvverrrrrr go there?… Watch out… they may have never seen a gay person before…” No matter what happens, this is a one time thing/cross of the bucket list kind of deal, so what’s the worst that could happen?
January 31: We set out on our 5 hour drive across the state of PA with pizza in hand, the Groundhog Day Musical soundtrack on loud, and still, no idea what we’re in for. Here we come, Small Town USA!
It’s dark when we arrive in Punxsutawney. I’m driving slowly, almost to a stop. There’s groundhog statues, a shopping plaza and fire station and car wash and more, all adorned with groundhogs. It’s Groundhog Mania. I’m loving it. Derrick reminds me to keep my eyes on the road. Shortly, we pull into our B&B. We wander into the main room and a group of people welcome us in with wine, questions, and our very own homemade groundhog hats (thanks Pam!). We get chatting and learn that this is the first GHD for a number of us, but for others it’s year two, year eight, year ten, and for one person, it’s year 26! Clearly we have no idea what we’re in for, but I think we’ve burrowed into something special (cue feelings of Christmas Eve!).
Over the next few days, Derrick and I experience something that is really indescribable. It’s as if we entered a little secret burrow, away from the rest of the world. We totally lean in and just take it all in.
First off, Groundhog Day is much more than the 10 minutes they show online. Punxsutawney fully commits to this celebration over the long weekend. Groundhog Day is something the town takes very seriously, with a bit of a wink, and a ton of heart. Take the Inner Circle for example. On first look, you may just see a group of random white guys in tuxes. BUT they dress formally because they are charged with being responsible for a true VIP: A Very Important Phil (this is the true fact). When you ask how old Phil is, the answer is (at least) 132 years. Every year he drinks a special elixir that adds 7 years to his life. So yes, this is the original and only Punxatawney Phil, the Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators. The Inner Circle works year round to take care of Phil, and to facilitate the Groundhog shenanigans and formalities.
On top of the Inner Circle, as well as the permanent groundhog inspired fixtures and business names, there’s many Groundhog Days activities ranging from hay rides to groundhog lessons, charity runs and art shows, bingo and s’mores making. Of course there are multiple screenings of Groundhog Day, as well as many chances to meet Phil up close and personal.
Quickly, we discovered that nothing was what we expected, but exactly what we would have wanted, had we known what we wanted. For example, we signed up for the Groundhog Grub Walking Food Tour. We expect to go restaurant to restaurant, and get a little sample. Yet after our first stop at a local bakery, we head to the book store, the jewelry store, the florist, the library, and more, sampling homemade cakes, stews, potatoes, and treats. Initially I’m a little confused, then worried about my high sugar intake. Then I realize how clearly charmed I am by it all. Our last stop is the best: It’s at Mulberry Square, their elder care home. There’s live music, and about 40 seniors watching, and dancing. Phil and his wife Phillis are mixing and mingling as well. Now, this is all delightful, but what makes this so special isn’t the little pretzels and cider, but the staff and residents. They are so so grateful to have us. That we would come in and spend a few minutes with them. There is only gratitude, and we can’t help but feel sunshine on the cool rainy day.
Before we know it, Derrick and I are having this exact conversation: “Do you think we should go to the Groundhog Ball? We did go to the Groundhog Banquet, but not the Groundhog Reception, as that’s for members only. And Groundhog Bingo, and Groundhog Walk, and we’ll do the Groundhog Jog. Oh, and the Groundhog Tea. I don’t want to miss out…” No predictions needed: We have become phanatical phans of Phil.
And Groundhog Day. The actual morning, and reason that we came in the first place. I normally don’t get up before 7am for really anything. This thing starts at 3am! And we’re there shortly before 4am. I thought a few hundred or so people would attend this. Attendance is near 20,000 by 6am. Despite three and half hours of sleep, I’m pumped and loving every minute. The smuggled in Bailey’s and hot chocolate also helps keep us warm.
It’s bands, music, fireworks, fire, and confetti. It’s Punxsutawney’s Got Talent, banjos, and string bands. It’s quite the production leading up to the 10 minutes when Phil is phinally woken up from his stump to make his prediction.
The crowds cuddle in as the President of The Inner Circle uses his ancient walking stick to communicate with Phil in Groundhogese (that’s how we know if he saw his shadow or not, and likely a little chatter about the holidays and family life). It’s all very official. Phil instructs the President to one of two scrolls, revealing if it will be an early spring or a late winter. The proclamation is read, and the crowd boos as six more weeks of winter is confirmed. We all pause, then begin cheering again: “Phil, Phil, Phil!” There is a lot of joy in the cold morning air. And before we know it, it’s 7:40am and everyone has left (likely back for a midmorning hibernation nap).
Like all holidays, celebrations, and traditions, it’s the commitment and the beliefs that make it magical. And it’s the people that make it memorable. On the streets, at events, everyone here is so friendly and welcoming. People stop to chat, and there is a lightness to the town that just feels good. At our B&B, we share breakfast with people from all over: Texas, Ohio, New York, Georgia, Kentucky, California. We hang out in between events, see each other on the streets, and visit by the fireplace at the end of the day. And as we bid farewell, it’s hugs and hopes to see each other again one day. We had become our own Inner Circle.
As we begin to pack up our things on February 3, we continue a conversation that we’ve been having more or less since we arrived: do we come back again, or is this the one off experience that we planned it to be? Looking into Derrick’s eyes and smile, I know the decision has been made. I would not have predicted this, but I’m happier than hearing about an early spring: We are heading back to the Knob for GHD 2019! We are officially Groundhogees!
I’ve been racking my brain trying to find the words and the explanation of what Groundhog Day is like. In short, why go to Punxsutawney?! You really need to experience yourself to believe it. Often during the winter post-Christmas blues, we default to a sunshine getaway to reenergize. I’d suggest Punxsutawney for Groundhog Day instead. Believe me: You’ll leave feeling better, brighter, and maybe even a little warmer, no matter what Phil’s weather prediction is.
Revisit 2018’s Groundhog Prediction by clicking here (at 1:49, I’m the red arms, and Derrick is the blue! Hello!).
Song of the Day: Day One (from Groundhog Day The Musical)