Today is Groundhog Day in the United States. In a few hours’ time, the people of Pennsylvania will be clustered around the hole of their famous groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil. If Phil comes out and sees his shadow, that means six more weeks of winter. If Phil emerges and doesn’t see his shadow, that means an early spring.
Lots of cultures around the world have a tradition like this, to mark the transition from Winter to Spring. It’s really a way of learning from nature: if a hibernating animal thinks it’s time to come out, they’re probably right.
But Groundhog Day has become famous because of the 1993 movie starring Bill Murray. In it, he gets stuck in a time loop. Every day is the 2nd of February, and he seems doomed to repeat it for ever. The story soon becomes a parable. He starts by behaving badly, knowing that his actions have no real consequence. Then he gets depressed, and drives himself and the groundhog off a cliff. But still he wakes up again on Groundhog Day, so eventually he decides to use the knowledge he’s gained about the day, to improve the lives of those around him. Choosing to act with love and kindness finally sets him free from his purgatory. Paradoxically, it’s only when he blesses his day that he can be released from it. The shadow has turned to light, so Spring can now come.
And light is the theme of another significant date in the calendar today, which is Candlemas. For centuries, people have been bringing their candles to church on this day, to be blessed for use throughout the rest of the year. A candle is such an extraordinary thing. Just one, turns a dark room full of noises and hidden dangers into a familiar and welcoming space.
Sometimes our world can feel very dark and scary, and it feels like we should hibernate, or prepare to defend ourselves. But our job is to keep being that light. It’s only Groundhog Day for ever if we let the shadow win. As it says in John’s Gospel: ‘the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’
I have been delivering “Thought For The Day” pieces on BBC Radio Scotland since November 2016. By kind permission these pieces are reproduced in blog posts here on my website. To find my other pieces click here go to my Thought For The Day index page.