It’s hard to know what’s more out there: Groundhog Day, the movie about a man trapped in an endless time loop until he becomes a better person… or the popular tradition during which a Groundhog’s fear of its own shadow is said to signal six more weeks of winter.

The meaning behind the Groundhog Day tradition

Groundhog Day is observed every February 2 and falls between the winter solstice and the spring equinox — marking a crossroads between the two seasons. The traditional ceremony is based on an old belief that the activities of a rodent named Punxsutawney Phil can indicate the arrival of spring. Spoiler: It turns out that groundhogs at this time of year are not delivering a weather report, but looking for love. What’s more, Phil has some competition: There are many other weather-predicting rodents in America and Canada, with adorable (and sometimes perplexing) names like Staten Island Chuck, Chuckles IX, and Thistle the Whistle-pig!

This delightfully odd day of the year tells us that people are always trying to predict the future and have some control over what life throws at us. Unfortunately, it turns out that rodents are no better at predicting the future than people are, as shown in 2022 when two Groundhogs predicted different outcomes (awkward!).

The meaning of the film Groundhog Day

Nineteen ninety-three’s Groundhog Day is beloved by Bill Murray fans everywhere. Murray plays the central character, Phil (yes, like the Groundhog), who starts the movie as a cynical, self-obsessed weatherman. He resents being sent to the small town of Punxsutawney to report on the annual Groundhog Day prediction by his rodent namesake. After becoming trapped by a blizzard, he wakes the next morning to find the previous day repeating in its entirety. He initially dismisses it as déjà vu, but eventually concludes that he is doomed to repeat the same day over and over again, forever.

Resigned to his fate in a seemingly pointless existence, Phil resorts to indulging in increasingly self-destructive acts, knowing that he will always awaken unharmed the next day. He eventually grows bored of all this and becomes inspired to help the townsfolk of Punxsutawney, based on his intimate knowledge of the events of this eternal day. It’s only by looking outward to how he can support his community, and finding the wonder in everyday people and events, that he is able to free himself from his time-loop prison.

Groundhog Day teaches us the value of appreciating what you have, taking control of the things you can change, and learning to accept the things you can’t. Murray’s character tries to use his knowledge of the day to trick people into thinking he has changed his shallow ways, but it always backfires. It’s only when he changes his own outlook on life and discovers what makes him happy (playing piano, learning French, and doing good deeds for others) that he is able to find some joy in each relived day. And of course, he wins the girl (hey, it was the nineties!).

Phil helps some elderly ladies change a flat tire, catches a boy falling from a tree, and gives wrestling tickets to a newlywed couple (surely the greatest gift of all?). The film teaches us that while we can’t always get what we want in life, there is infinite joy to be found in helping our own communities flourish.

Phil doesn’t just learn to embrace life and help people, he also learns to accept that all life comes to an end at some point, despite our best efforts; as when he is unable to prevent a homeless man from dying of natural causes. It’s a reminder that life is fragile and the best thing we can do is prepare ourselves for the worst while planning how to make the most out of our precious time with our friends, families, and loved ones.  

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Kevin Maher
New York Life Insurance Company
(212) 576-6955

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