Every year, on Feb. 2, world-famous groundhog and weather prognosticator Punxsutawney Phil of Pennsylvania—see if you can say those last five words 10 times really fast—tells us what the rest of winter will look like. With a great show of ceremony, the chubby little guy is brought out before a large, boisterous crowd. If he sees his shadow, we’ve got six more weeks of cold temps, icicles, and snow. No shadow, and an early spring is coming down the pike.
Twelve days later, February brings us Valentine’s Day. Perhaps rooted in the ancient Roman holiday of Lupercalia, which celebrated the advent of spring and included fertility rites, this festival was appropriated by Christians when fifth-century Pope Gelasius I banished Lupercalia and replaced it with Saint Valentine’s Day. It’s unclear which Saint Valens can claim the honor of that name, but in the late Middle Ages, poets such as Geoffrey Chaucer attached romantic love to this feast day, and by the 16th century, lovers and spouses were exchanging written messages proclaiming their affections. A couple of centuries later, printed cards became available.
Symbols of the day included Cupid, the Roman god of love and birds, stemming from the ancient belief that their mating season begins in mid-February; roses, a symbol of beauty and love; chocolates; and cards—all of which today are tokens of romantic affection.
But groundhogs? Where do they fit into our Valentine’s Day with its profusion of candies, cards, and candlelight dinners?
Time to go to the movies.
Phil and Phil
In Harold Ramis’s 1993 film “Groundhog Day,” arrogant and egocentric weather forecaster Phil Connors (Bill Murray), his cameraman Larry (Chris Elliott), and his producer Rita Hanson (Andie MacDowell) are dispatched to Punxsutawney to cover Groundhog Day. Phil despises his assignment and the fact that he and the groundhog share the same name, treats everyone he meets with a condescending contempt, and can hardly wait to return to Pittsburgh.
But a bad storm forces the trio to remain overnight in Punxsutawney, and when Phil awakens the next morning, it’s Groundhog Day once again. Everything that happened the day before is repeated, although only he realizes it. Even worse, this pattern becomes his life. Some strange twist of the universe forces Phil to relive Groundhog Day again and again and again.
Soon realizing that his actions carry no consequences—he awakens every morning with all his previous day’s deeds wiped away—Phil turns to a life of hedonism, stuffing himself with desserts in the café, seducing a local woman, stealing money from an armored truck, and even slugging a former high school classmate turned insurance salesman. Finally, driven to despair by this endless repetition of days, he attempts to do away with himself, climbing into a bathtub with a toaster, for example, or diving off a tall building. Yet each day finds him resurrected, lying in his bed in the Cherry Tree Inn at dawn on Groundhog Day.
Finally, Phil confides in Rita and convinces her that the time warp in which he is stuck is real. She then offers to accompany him throughout the day to see if together they can discern what is happening to him. That night, before falling asleep in his room at the inn, she suggests that these days of repetition are a gift to Phil, a remarkable chance to make more of his life.
In the morning, Rita has disappeared, and it’s once again Groundhog Day, but Phil is no longer the same man. He is gracious and kind to all those he has mistreated in the past, including Larry and Rita, and becomes adept at the piano, French, and ice-sculpting. By movie’s end, Phil has remade himself into a Renaissance man of grace, charm, and goodness.
This message of self-improvement and of fulfilling our potential has appealed to a broad range of viewers. In “The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead,” an ideal gift, by the way, for young people ages 17 to 25 or so, Charles Murray advises readers to “watch Groundhog Day repeatedly.” It is, he writes, “a profound moral fable that deals with the most fundamental issues of virtue and happiness” and “will help you live a good life.”
When Phil does his 180 and makes himself a better man, we are left with the impression that Rita’s advice accounts for his reversal. But if we closely watch this scene, we can discern another driving force behind Phil’s transformation.
Love You Forever
At one point, Phil whispers to Rita, “You’re the kindest, sweetest, prettiest person I’ve ever met in my life.” He then kisses her on the cheek and tells her he’d been attracted to her since he first saw her, and adds: “I don’t deserve someone like you. But if I ever could, I swear I would love you for the rest of my life.”
Rita has captured his heart. Like millions of men down through the centuries, Phil has fallen in love, realizes he doesn’t measure up to Rita’s expectations, and so strives to become a man more deserving of the woman he adores.
And he succeeds. His change to gentleman from jerk softens Rita’s heart. Earlier in the film, when Phil asks her, “Who is your perfect guy?” he sneers when Rita offers a list of attributes such as romantic, courageous, humble, supportive, and funny.
But by the end of “Groundhog Day,” Phil has become that guy. He has made himself worthy of love.
Which brings us at last to Valentine’s Day.
A Feast Day for Everyone
Through Rita, Phil Connors finally escapes Groundhog Day and resumes his life. His efforts to win her also connect him to the townspeople he once scorned. Love has conquered the cynic and narcissist.
Now, of all our holidays, Valentine’s Day is the only date on the calendar dedicated to human love. It’s true that all the fuss is aimed at romantic love, candlelight dinners with that special one in your life, or a weekend getaway from the kids. It’s also true that these restrictions annoy others, who may feel excluded from the festivities.
But what if we added a few more ponies to that carousel? What if we kept the romance in place, but also viewed the holiday as a special occasion to express our affections to others we love, our family and friends? What if, as Phil learned to his credit, we made an effort on that day to honor and appreciate all those we love, seeking to strengthen our connections with them?
Heaven only knows our country is in need of those connections. That Americans are troubled nowadays, often divided and angry with one another, should be obvious to anyone who follows the news. Right now, I suspect, most of us could use a generous helping of love, and here’s a day designed for just that purpose.
And as I pointed out last year in an Epoch Times article about Valentine’s Day, there are lots of ways we can celebrate these bonds of affection. Grandparents could send cards to their grandchildren. Flown-the-nest children might telephone their parents. We could email some friends, telling them what they mean to us. We could throw a party and lift a glass to love. If Dad is in assisted living, we might deliver a plate of holiday cookies to him and his companions. Ditto for the kids in our child’s classroom.
It’s simple, really. All we really have to do on this day is to say “I love you” to those who should already know it.
Top that off with a serving all around of crème brûlée or chocolate-covered strawberries, and you’ll have a five-star Valentine’s Day.