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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Groundhog Day: Any Excuse for a Party

Today is Groundhog Day in Canada and the US. If you’re not familiar with this holiday, it’s fairly nonsensical, in my opinion. According to folklore, the groundhog comes out of his burrow every February 2nd—his mastery of the Gregorian calendar is amazing—and looks around to see if he spots his shadow. If he sees his shadow, we’re in for six more weeks of winter, which never made any sense to me. Okay. None of it makes sense, but I really don’t get why seeing his shadow would make him go back into his burrow. Wouldn’t a sunny day encourage him to stay out of his hole?

But in the United States, the groundhog’s forecast is considered anywhere from 75-90% accurate, whereas the Canadian groundhog is only 37% accurate in his forecasts. That can only mean one thing: US groundhogs make better grades in their meterology classes.

Groundhog Day is not widely celebrated in my area of the country. In Wisconsin, we don’t need a fuzzy rodent to tell us we still have weeks of winter left. And quite frankly, I don’t think it would be safe for the groundhog to make such a prediction. You know, killing the messenger and all that. It's February! We’re tired of snow and cold, which is the reason those of you living in warmer climates might see some of our ghostly-white bodies on cruise ships and beaches about now.

However, Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania makes a big deal out of Groundhog Day and holds a festival with approximately 40,000 participants attending the events. This year there is an early morning witnessing of the groundhog emerging from his burrow followed by other events such as a magic show, carriage rides around town, jugglers, music and even a ventriloquist. (I wonder if he’ll have a groundhog puppet.) A festival for a buck-toothed fur ball may sound odd, but the US is not alone in holding strange festivals.

In the Spanish village of Castrillo de Murcia, men dressed as devils jump over babies as they run from the church as part of Corpus Christi, a Christian feast day. That's right. They leap over babies! It’s part of a blessing ritual and symbolizes cleansing of the babies. This ritual has been held in this town since 1620. But despite the baby-jumping piece, it sounds like a fun festival, unless the part where men dress up like devils really terrorize and whip the people of the village. If that's the case, this festival sounds like a downer.

In the Japanese festival of Konaki Sumo, the babies have a baby smackdown with the help of Sumo wrestlers holding them aloft until one or both of them cry. The babies, not the Sumo wrestlers. The first baby to cry is the winner. The festival is based on an old proverb. “Crying babies grow fast.” Hmm… Perhaps it has something to do with the mothers feeding the babies more often to keep them quiet.

Residents of Geraardsbergen, Belgium celebrate a festival called Krakelingen where they throw bread and swallow live fish swimming in red wine. Thankfully, the fish are too drunk to care.

Then in Thailand, there is a festival to honor the monkey god Hanuman. Large amounts of fruits and vegetables are laid out buffet-style then the monkeys are invited to have at it. Anyone who has teenage sons with friends probably has experienced something similar, but this is still a sight I would love to see. Interestingly, the city of Lopburi has decided to embrace the Macaque monkeys who tend to be daring little gluttons rather than try to run them off for being pests. The monkeys live in the city and think nothing of stealing snacks from the locals or tourists. They’ll even rummage through your pockets or hold your hand. If you attend the Lopburi Monkey Festival, you may be issued a stick to discourage overly friendly primates.

There are many interesting festivals held around the world, but there’s not enough space here to do them all justice. Locally, our biggest festival is Oktoberfest. People come from all over to witness the Tapping of the Golden Keg. It’s a week long celebration of parades, food, music and camaraderie. And I guess that’s the bottom line. No matter the reason for a festival, whether it is centered around a rodent who sees his shadow or making babies cry, it’s all about observing traditions and maintaining a sense of community.

I'd love to hear about some of the local festivals in your area of the world, so please share. What types of festivals do you celebrate? It doesn't have to be strange. We also celebrate Cornfest, Applefest and Sunfish Days.


  1. Punxsutawny Phil did NOT see his shadow today, so that means an early spring. However, it is sunny in Wisconsin, so what could that mean?

  2. Hopefully it means that the blizzard traveling along I-44 will quickly dispel. This horrible wintry weather makes me so glad to have moved from the St. Louis Metropolitan Area to Dothan, AL. Dothan has a yearly mural festival with food, entertainment and tours of the Downtown. One of the murals displayed is that of the actor and local Dothan hero Johnny Mack Brown. Dothan also has a yearly Johnny Mack Brown festival -- with food, stagecoach rides and other entertainment -- where cowboys portray Wild West shootout scenes and Johnny Mack Brown movies are shown.

  3. Sandra,

    What a fun festival! I'd like to ride in a stagecoach to see what it's like. Can you believe I've been to Dothan, AL? I had a high school boyfriend who lived there. We met on vacation in Florida. :)

    I hope the wintery weather moves out of the south too. I have good friends in Texas stuck in their homes with power that keeps going out.

  4. Hilarious, Michelle. I tend to avoid any celebrations which do not directly involve good food. :)

  5. What a fun post! I love any reason to celebrate. We used to go out to lunch for Elvis' birthday, because you need SOMETHING in January to distract you from the blahs. LOL And I'm getting my house ready for Chinese New Year tomorrow--can't hurt to sweep out bad luck, right? :)

    One unique celebration here is Patriot's Day, where they celebrate the beginning of the Revolutionary War, with reenactments of the battles in Concord and Lexington. It's also the day they run the Boston Marathon.

  6. Clarissa,

    I'm game for any celebration having to do with food too.

    I've always liked the idea of sweeping out bad luck. And how fun to celebrate Elvis' birthday. What did you have on your menu? Love Me Tenderloin? ;)

  7. After the blizzard we had this week, if that Groundhog hadn't seen his shadow things would be ugly around here. :)

    We celebrate Little Balkins days around here, which is "Held annually on Labor Day Weekend, the history, heritage, art and culture that is unique to Southeast Kansas in relationship to the Balkans region in Europe is celebrated." Quilt shows, car shows, games for the kids, lots of amazing food.

  8. Oops, I meant HAD seen his shadow. I'd better get more sleep. :)

  9. Gillian,

    That's interesting. I wouldn't have expected a connection between the Balkans and Kansas.

    Here's wishing for good weather and an early spring for ya'll.