I didn't get around to doing (secular) Christmas cards in December. I was too overwhelmed with work and other holiday season activities. But I absolutely love the tradition of sending cards every year. It's a small but meaningful gesture to friends and family that says, you're important to us.
Cards are physical, and just as a hand-written letter tends to carry more meaning than an email, a card, even a simple photo card, tends to carry more weight than e-cards. Cards are more time consuming and costly than electronic gestures, so I understand why so many people have given it up.
I, however, refuse to totally surrender to the hectic nature of the holiday season, and so instead of just dropping the cards altogether, I pushed them back six weeks and am sending out Groundhog Day cards. Since I had now ample time and I'm a woodcut print-maker, I even made my own cards, one of which you see pictured here, and had my daughter help hand-color a bunch of them. (Inside the cards I'll include the obligatory cute pic of my kids.)
I love this idea, and plan to adopt it as a new family tradition. It's so secular humanist! Here's a fun, cute holiday explicitly connected to nature and the seasons. There are no religious or spiritual trappings. And who couldn't use a pick-me-up in mid-winter after the excess and vacation days of the holiday season are long gone?
Although Groundhog Day has its origins in mild superstition, few people literally believe that groundhogs possess supernatural powers to forecast the weather. There will be no billboards erected by the faithful, urging us to be more pious in our observations of this holiday. Just contradictions between the predictions of Punxatawney Phil and all the other furry prognosticators (Buckeye Chuck, Holtsville Hal, Malverne Mel, Wiarton Willie, etc.) Such disagreements only emphasizes the playful and democratic nature of the holiday.
Modern Groundhog Day has its origins in my adopted state of Pennsylvania. However, its cultural evolution goes much farther back and across the Atlantic. German settlers originally celebrated February 2nd as Candlemas Day. Like Christmas, that's a Christian holiday, but which marks the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple. Also like Christmas, it's clearly a Christianization of earlier, Pagan celebrations, specifically having striking similarities in its date and associated customs to the Celtic holiday Imbolc.
Groundhog Day shares a parallel history to "Christmas", with the one exception being that it has a distinctly secular name. The term "Christmas" is stuck in a sort of linguistic limbo where it has both a Christian and secular meaning, depending on who uses (and celebrates) it.
In addition to cards, our family celebrated Groundhog Day by attending two winter festivals. On Saturday we went to the Wagner Free Institute for Science's Winter Wonderland, and heard a storyteller talk and sing about how animals cope with the coldest season. Today we attended the Briar Bush Nature Center's Winterfest, where we met many live animals, made groundhog stick puppets, and shadow puppets of local fauna.
In final praise of Groundhog Day, while I loved Bill Murray in Scrooged (actually I love Bill Murray in anything), his performance in Groundhog Day brought this once exclusively North American holiday to the world's attention.
All and all, Groundhog Day is pretty darn cool.