What Groundhogs and Shadows Teach us About Community

“Okay, campers, rise and shine, and don’t forget your booties ’cause it’s cooooold out there today.”

Yep, it’s February 2nd folks.

If by some impossible circumstance you don’t know the meaning this calendar date holds, let me refresh your memory a bit.

Today is that magical day where we lay aside our political opinions (if only for a moment), our deepest grievances, even our anger that the Patriots are in the big game again, and we turn our national attention to a giant weather-predicting rat from Pennsylvania.

Why? Because we’re Americans, that’s why.

That’s right woodchuck-chuckers — IT’S GROUNDHOG DAY.

Now it’s possible that the only cool stuff you know about this, the greatest of all national holidays, is from the movie I quoted at the top: Bill Murray’s classic comedy from the early 90s, “Groundhog Day.” But oh my goodness, there’s so much more. Here are a few fun facts that somehow they’re not teaching our kids in school.

  • The giant weather-predicting rat has a name, and it’s Punxsutawney Phil Sowerby. (Really? Sowerby?)
  • Phil has a temporary home on Gobbler’s Knob (Really? Gobbler’s Nob?), which is where he emerges from to see his shadow.
  • Phil has a “wife” named Phyllis, as well as a “daughter,” Phelicia.
  • We have been celebrating Phil’s prognostications since 1887.
  • If Phil sees his shadow, he has predicted six more weeks of winter. If he does not see his shadow, he has predicted an early spring.
  • Phil is correct about the remaining length of winter 39 percent of the time. (Is it me, or does this seem marginally more accurate than human meteorologists?)
  • The “Inner Circle,” a select group known by their top hats and tuxes, take care of Phil throughout the year.

If all of this seems ridiculous to you, let me assure you… it is. I once tried to explain this cultural phenomenon to a friend from another country, who looked at me as if I were the groundhog, then shook his head and muttered, “Americans.”

Giant weather-rats aside, I think there’s something amazing about human nature that’s in play here. Let’s be honest — the shenanigans in that little Pennsylvania town have almost nothing to do with a woodchuck, and almost everything to do with the festival that celebrates the day. Those folks aren’t deeply invested in Punxsutawney Phil Sowerby’s prediction, but they are interested in an opportunity to eat, drink and share life with one another. Celebrating together is a fundamental aspect of being human.

We were made for community. Every one of us is an image-bearer of the triune God who lives in perfect community with Himself. When we share life together, we more accurately reflect our creator.


But I need to re-learn some things about living in community, and it’s likely you do too. We’re generally far too concerned with our own self-interests to notice those even in close proximity to us.

Nothing revolutionary, but here are a few practical suggestions I read on a coffee shop wall that reminded me that I don’t need a festival which celebrates a predictive rodent to live in and build community.

  • Turn off your television
  • Know your neighbors
  • Greet people
  • Look up when you’re walking
  • Support neighborhood schools
  • Talk to the mail-carrier
  • Bake/cook extra and share
  • Share your skills
  • Organize a block party
  • Take your kids to the park
  • Put up a swing
  • Ask for help
  • Garden together

Shadow or no shadow, it ultimately won’t make a difference — but prioritizing community will. Don’t wait for another six weeks to actively reach out and make a positive impact in the lives around you.

For more ideas on how to do this, check out Saturate: Being Disciples of Jesus in the Everyday Stuff of Life by Jeff Vanderstelt.

Authored by NCC Assistant Pastor Jonathan Valletta | northcentral.org

Picture by Anthony Quintano via Flickr, Creative Commons

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