Sunday, January 29, 2006

A Plea To Phree Phil (Before The ACLU Does)

With a face that only a mother could love, Punxsutawney Phil will once more be world news on February 2nd. Phil's lifestyle and his claim to fame comes under scrutiny in this editorial that reminds us - there is a smile hidden somewhere in every story and the ACLU has left at least one stone unturned (for now).

Outlaw Groundhog Day
By Tom Purcell
Sunday, January 29, 2006

Punxsutawney Phil must be stopped. The lovable little groundhog must be stopped.

You know the routine. Every Feb. 2, Groundhog Day, Phil is yanked from a tree stump in Punxsutawney, Pa. If he sees his shadow, his organizers allege, there will be six more weeks of winter. If he doesn't, spring will be just around the corner.

Millions have loved this primitive ritual for years, but now there's a problem.

Groundhog Day evolved out of Candlemas Day, you see, a Christian tradition commemorating the purification of the Virgin Mary. As this tradition evolved in Germany, it got ever more colorful. Germans soon believed that Candlemas Day could also predict the weather. Somewhere along the line they began yanking a hedgehog out of a tree stump, and soon the peculiar tradition took root.

When German immigrants began settling in Punxsutawney in 1887, they brought the tradition with them. Now we have a problem.

How, in this day and age, can any government body impose on our diverse society any celebration or event that has its roots in religion? Aren't the people of Punxsutawney providing their de facto support of one religion over all the others? Isn't their silly event not only offensive to non-Christians but also to people who practice no faith?

Isn't this annual event, then, in clear violation of the Separations Clause of the U.S. Constitution? If Santa Claus and Christmas trees are being banished in public squares across America, how can Groundhog Day not follow suit?

The event promotes other offenses. Groundhog Day is organized by a group of men known as the "Inner Circle." These are the fellows who wear top hats and tuxedos and yank Phil out of the tree stump. As usual, it is men who are exploiting a helpless little creature for profit and greed, and men who have kept women out of leadership positions within their Inner Circle clique.

The hypocrisy of these fellows is staggering. They boast of how they pamper Phil. He lives in a heated home and is fed delicious treats, they say. He lives better than most humans, they promise. They're especially proud of one particularly disgusting tidbit.

Phil has a harem.

The men of the Inner Circle provide Phil with three young female companions to take the edge off his lonely bachelor existence. That's right, this band of brothers is trafficking in "woodchucks of the night."

Aside from all the hypocrisy and the clear violation of the Separation Clause, what is the point of conducting this primitive annual ritual, now that we live in such progressive times?

Sure, I understand that small-minded people believe such traditions enrich our lives and bring much-needed levity to the hearts of millions. I understand that our traditions evolved from a hodgepodge of cultural influences and that the best of them celebrate our common humanity.

But still, Groundhog Day as we know it must be ended -- or at least drastically modified.

For starters, we must set Phil free. No innocent animal should be kept in captivity so that he can be exploited for fun and profit. We must release him back to his natural habitat immediately.

We can replace him with a less offensive living entity, such as a tree or shrub. Trees and shrubs cast shadows, too, and holding them in captivity is much more humane, since their roots keep them from roaming freely anyhow. We can then call the event "Groundshrub Day."

Most important, this event should be entirely secular. Any reference to the Christian past must be deleted from the official Web site. I was shocked to find such references on the existing Groundhog Day Web site.

I'm confident that if the men in the Inner Circle make these needed changes -- and if they begin to admit women to leadership positions within their currently male-dominated clique -- then the Groundshrub Day tradition will continue for many years to come.

If they don't, the ACLU just might take these suggestions seriously and file suit within the week.

Tom Purcell, a free-lance writer, lives in Mt. Lebanon. E-mail him at You can also visit him on the Web at

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posted by Is It Just Me? at 6:45 AM