Welcome to the holiday edition of CracTpot.
Happy February 2nd… otherwise known as Groundhog’s Day.
While some of you might feel I’m stretching the definition of ‘holiday’, others, understanding my fetish with formal wear, have already guessed that if I put on my wedding dress to have tea parties with my daughters, I’m definitely going to celebrate with small furry creatures in top hats.
Life can be monotonous and hard, why on earth waste an opportunity arguing the legitimacy of a holiday or whether it has gotten too commercialized, when we could just get dressed up and celebrate it?
Here in Canada, the history of this particular holiday, very much encapsulates the CracTpot philosophy. It started in 1956 when Mac McKenzie, obviously a cracTpot at heart, was looking for an excuse to throw a party. Invitations were sent and one ended up on the desk of a Toronto Star reporter. After arriving at McKenzie’s home town of Wiarton and realizing that there was in fact no official event being held, he was invited to celebrate with Mac and his friends at the local pub with the kind of hospitality Canadians are known for. Unfortunately, when the bar tab, er, I mean work related travel expenses were tallied, the reporter realized he was in need of an actual story. This is when a fabulously dressed woman stepped in to save the day (don’t we always) who sacrificed her fur hat which they stuck in the snow. The drunken fools, I mean Groundhog Day Founders, huddled around the hat, I mean groundhog, and the picture was snapped that ran in the Toronto Star the very next day. The rest, as they say, is history. The following year, 35 people arrived for the party, the next, 50, and currently, Wiarton is arguably the largest Groundhog day festival in Canada.
Not that it hasn’t seen its share of struggles.
In 1999, Wiarton was found dead 2 days before the ceremony. I can’t imagine being the Junior Assistant responsible for sharing that grizzly discovery to the powers that be. However, rather than miss out on an excuse to celebrate, when it was time for the big reveal, town officials opened a specially crafted coffin exposing a stuffed groundhog with coins on his eyes, dressed in a tuxedo, holding a little carrot. (I’m wondering if a bar tab was responsible for this brainstorm as well) With 20 000 people in attendance, I am sure there were parents that were outraged and PETA was undoubtedly called for the insensitive handling of the death of a groundhog. However, anyone that knows the celebrity life knows that regular rules of decorum don’t always apply, and if Tupac’s friends can smoke his remains in a joint, I think Willie’s Celebration of Life takes on a comparatively classy shine.
One of my favourite movies, starring the indescribably funny Bill Murray, is based on an unlikable journalist who is forced to relive Groundhog Day over and over again. After initially choosing to use this twist of fate for personal gain, he eventually decides to look at the big picture with a heartwarming Hollywood ending that still holds true. He finally uses the time he has to be the best possible version of himself. Like the original Toronto Star reporter in 1956 and the Wiarton town officials in 1999, he takes a less than ideal situation and chooses to make the best of it, and with enough time, the best you can make, gets better and better.
Happily, someone has actually calculated how long Bill Murray was trapped in his time loop (check out that video here) and came to the conclusion that he spent 33 years and 350 days screwing up before he finally got it right. Scientists have established that the brain doesn’t even finish developing until the age of 25, so if you start from there, I have at least until the age of 58 to get my act together. Until then, I will follow in the steps of past fellow Canadians and make the most of the day I was given. Our small town of Peterborough does not have an official groundhog representative but other Canadian cities have demonstrated, with the likes of Shubencadie Sam, Manitoba Merv and the recently deceased Winnipeg Willow, that the secret to a successful groundhog dignitary is alliteration. While we have fostered over 100 animals including cats, dogs, birds and once a lizard, we have yet to provide refuge for a groundhog. We are however currently fostering a Shih-tzu, a brachycephalic breed, whose flat face and short nose causes her to snort and snore like an obese, chain smoking 70 year old every time she falls asleep or gets cuddled. We’ve affectionately taken to calling her Piggy, so today she represents the small furry creature that gets to play meteorologist.
Before you laugh, it’s actually not uncommon to swap out the animal in question. Alaska celebrates Marmot day due to its frustrating lack of groundhogs and there is speculation that the entire tradition arises from an Orthodox Christian fable where a bear ventures out from hibernation only to be startled by her own shadow and retreats to the safety of her den for 6 more weeks until the coast is clear. This would have made for a much more visually exciting celebration but considering the number of bite wounds over the years from disgruntled groundhogs, I’m sure we can all agree that change is good.
So later today, I will be standing in my backyard, in a very stylish lace, off the shoulder, long sleeve gown, with a glass of Moscato, waiting to see if Peterborough Piggy sees her shadow…but either way, I’m going to spend the next 6 weeks trying to be the very best version of myself, and celebrating every chance I get. Feel free to join me…top hats are optional.
When Chekhov saw the long winter, he saw a winter bleak and dark and bereft of hope. Yet we know that winter is just another step in the cycle of life. But standing here among the people of Punxsutawney and basking in the warmth of their hearths and hearts, I couldn’t imagine a better fate than a long and lustrous winter ~ Phil Conners in Groundhog Day