Reader Friday and Groundhog Day: Shadows, Superstitions, and Symbolism

Phil and Chuck Discuss the Weather Forecast

Did your groundhog see his shadow today?

Today is Groundhog Day, the 33rd day of 2024, with 333 days remaining in the year.

The superstition for Groundhog Day is this: If the groundhog sees his shadow on February 2nd, we will have six more weeks of winter. This apparently comes from the Pennsylvania Dutch tradition.

I began looking for other superstitions and symbolism surrounding this humorous day and quickly discovered that the focus was on shadows, a subject rich with superstitions and symbolism, much of which centers around the dark side of human nature and the parts we deem unacceptable.

Groundhog Day, the movie, deals with a related idea, the “groundhog day loop,” which is the experience of realizing we’re stuck and can’t get out of a pattern of repeated behavior and consequences.” (usually negative) (The Guardian)

So, today the subject of our discussion is wide and fuzzy, dark and shady. Take your pick of the questions below, or create your own.

  1. Have you used shadows in your writing? How?
  2. Have you read any books that used shadow superstitions or symbolism effectively?
  3. Any comments on the groundhog day loop?
  4. Do you have any friendly groundhogs who dig holes under your sheds?
  5. Do you wish the subject would go away and come back in six years?

30 thoughts on “Reader Friday and Groundhog Day: Shadows, Superstitions, and Symbolism

  1. Love that image of the groundhogs. Is that watercolor?

    Funny the impact the “Groundhog Day” movie has had–I’ve never seen the movie but have had occasion to refer to it when life circumstances are appropriate.

    I think most stories I write involve shadows, though not from a superstitious point of view. But just the word ‘shadow’ conveys emotion–it’s one small word you can use to convey a consistent message to a wide swath of people without being misunderstood.

  2. Thanks, BK. The image is watercolor. The artist is Tariq (jull111). You can find others of his watercolors on Pixabay Free, under “groundhogs” for an entry point. He won’t be giving his pictures away for free for long. A very talented artist.

    I watched the movie, Groundhog Day, but never really understood the theme until I read the article from The Guardian, linked above.

    Good point about the power of the word, “shadow.” It conveys a lot of emotion in one small word.

    I hope your day is filled with sunshine. Well, that would mean a longer winter. May your groundhog see his shadow before the sun comes out.

    • Oh, my. I’ll take the groundhogs. We have a family of groundhogs behind our tractor shed that are increasing the number of holes inside the shed yearly. This coming summer we’re going to pour a concrete floor.

      Skunks, how did you get rid of them? Now there’s another word with a lot of connotation.

      May you have a skunk-free day.

  3. Groundhog Day is the day the (not-yet) Hubster proposed, so it’s a special day for us for us. (I said yes.) The year was 1969 if anyone wants to do the math, so it was a good day whether or not shadows were seen.

    • Thanks for sharing, Terry. You can rename it, “Proposal Day.”

      May your mountains be covered with shadows today, and an early spring around the corner.

      Congrats to you and your husband on 55 years!

  4. I always use shadows in my books. Since my characters are often in the woods, the shadows hold many secrets and often eyes of predators — human and animal — waiting for them to misstep. 😉

    Hope you have a wonderful weekend!

    • Wonderful use of shadows, Sue. Bodies hidden in the trees. I wouldn’t want to be close to those trees. Do you suppose we could get wood from one of them to make a pen – The Body Snatcher Pen.

      Have a wonderful weekend!

  5. When I first saw a ground hog here in Montana, I thought, “Oh, how cute.” Then a few moved onto my property and I changed my mind. Here we call them yellow bellied marmots. They’re destructive little critters that breed like rabbits and never leave. After ten years, one group had grown to six groups, and they had dens all around my house.

    If they can’t find rocks to burrow under, they will use a building or a field. If it’s a field, their holes can be dangerous to horses, plus they eat all the grass. They’re also as loud as heck when they call to each other with a piercing whistle. I’m not sure why they left, but when they did, it was a relief.

    • Yes, when they move in, they don’t leave. Around here, they love to burrow under barns and sheds, probably for the protection. I’m surprised your clan of marmots left without coercion.

      I remember retired farmers sitting out on their back porch (over looking the garden) with a shotgun. They told me a groundhog could mow down a row of lettuce in half an hour.

      Have a groundhog-free day.

  6. Groundhogs are relatives of squirrels and, in our Montana neighborhood, squirrels rule. Soon there will be one climbing the patio door screen to glare at me for working at the computer when I’m supposed to be serving breakfast.

    A friend’s Doberman was an amazing hunter. She would watch holes like a cat, standing utterly still until the critter appeared. Then a lightning pounce and goodbye groundhog, vole, mouse, whatever. She could have gone into the rodent control business.

    Have a good weekend, Steve, and hope no one steps in a groundhog hole and sprains an ankle.

    • Thanks for sharing that story, Debbie. That Doberman was quite the hunter.

      Our woods is loaded with squirrels, with plenty of walnuts, hickory nuts, and acorns to eat. I guess that’s why the Redtail Hawks are constantly cruising the tree tops, looking for unsuspecting meals.

      I went to college in a small town in northern Indiana where the black squirrels had run out all the other squirrels. Interesting little creatures.

      Good luck with your B&N book event!

  7. Happy Groundhog Day, Steve! I love the picture.

    I’m fascinated with the subject of light and shadow. My middle-grade WIP is titled The Other Side of Sunshine and tells the story of a treasure hunt organized by the elusive “Mr. Shadow.”

    Have a great weekend filled with warmth and sunshine.

    • Thanks, Kay.

      Your WIP sounds interesting. Reminds me of Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem, My Shadow.

      I just read that the weather experts and the two groundhogs (Phil and Chuck) all agree that we will have an early spring.

      Have a great weekend!

  8. Great post, Steve. The female protagonist in my 1947 cold war historical is a practiced “shadow” able to disguise herself such that she goes unnoticed or simply melts into a crowd. One particular scene is a cat-and-mouse gambit where she loses a mob shadow on a Los Angeles train crowded with GIs, sending him to San Diego while she boogies east. Writing that scene where she transforms her appearance posed a challenge but it was fun.

    This particular interpretation of “shadow” invoked deception and manipulation akin to prestidigitation, but with live-or-die stakes. It’s also a great opportunity to use an ironic twist, both for and against the main character.

  9. The groundhog day loop is a fine dramatic concept and also a great metaphor. Being trapped in a loop by your behavior or actions and not being able to leave it until you’ve learned and grown is a metaphor for life. Some never leave their own groundhog day loops.

    The 1979 Doctor Who episode, “City of Death” had the concept of a “chronic hysteresis“ which forced the Doctor and Romana to relieve events, albeit in a much shorter time frame than Groundhog Day the Movie.

    One of my favorite Stargate SG-1 episodes, “Window of Opportunity,” is a direct riff off of Groundhog Day the movie. The two least intellectual characters on the team, Colonel O’Neill and Teal’c, are trapped in a time loop must figure a way out, kin part by learning an ancient alien language. The implication is that the two endured thousands of timeloops while trying to figure a way out. It was also a very funny episode, much like the film “Groundhog Day.”

    Hope you have a wonderful weekend, Steve!

    • Good interpretation of the Groundhog Day Loop, Dale.

      Thanks for the reminders of “City of Death” and “Window of Opportunity.” They would be interesting to go back and see again.

      Thanks for participating. Have a great day, and an early spring!

    • Jack & Teal’c were my reason for watching SG-1. That was a great episode. Been quite a while since I’ve seen it. Need to find and watch it again.

  10. Groundhogs under a foundation are not your friends. I had a gym buddy whose garage was nearly destroyed by the burrowing little b*stards. They started appearing here around 15 year ago, and they destroy everything. Their favorite thing is to dig up new plantings just because.

    GROUNDHOG DAY is an awesome movie. The premise less so as it has appeared in almost every science fiction series, and some are pretty dang silly. My personal favorite is “Here We Go Again,” LEGENDS OF TOMORROW. Several new characters had been added, and the loops allowed them to be introduced in detail as the loop victim tries to figure out how to stop their time ship from being blown up. If you enjoy fun science fiction and clever storytelling, I highly recommend the series.

    • That was a fun series! Your comment reminded me that I never did finish it, losing track of it after about season 3 because of problems we had in streaming the CW here.

    • Thanks for the great information, Marilynn.

      I agree with you on the destruction groundhogs can cause. We trap and euthanize the family that has taken over our tractor shed, although I think we are losing the battle. My wife did discover that they love melon rinds (to bait the trap). And, interestingly, the raccoons always succeed in running off the groundhogs from the hole under the woodshed.

      Thanks for the recommendation of LEGENDS OF TOMORROW.

      I hope your groundhogs all decide to flee your premises.

  11. Great post, Steve!

    I’m presently reading The Lord of the Rings trilogy and am about 2/3 of the way through the first in the series. Tolkien used the concept of shadow like the master he was.

    Just an aside: my next subscriber newsletter will publish on 2/29 (last Thursday of every month), and I decided to tackle the subject of the origins of Leap Year. What a mistake! After reading through a mountain of information I didn’t understand, I quickly undecided to write a newsletter about it.

    So, instead, it’ll be about frogs. Get it? 🙂

    Happy weekend everyone!

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