No one would ever dare argue that Valentine’s Day is a meaningless ritual, since it involves kissing and chocolate. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to inject some new life into it, to keep it from getting stale.
Then there is Winterlude, an Ottawa institution by now but one that is constantly challenged to find ways of coping with changing times and unpredictable weather conditions. It’s not a meaningless ritual, but it could use a new twist or two.
If you want a meaningless ritual, take Groundhog Day. What a waste of time, both for people and for groundhogs. In Punxsutawney, Pa., 35,000 people turned out for it. In past years there have arrests for drunken rioting and such. Over a groundhog. In Wiarton, Ont., the appearance or non-appearance of Wiarton Willie’s shadow has been turned into a three-day festival.
There is probably a half-time show.
More groundhogs are getting into the act, since it appears that groundhogs seeing shadows, or not, are good for tourism. There’s Balzac Billy in Alberta and Winnipeg Willow in Manitoba.
For what it’s worth, none of these guys saw their shadows, which is supposed to mean that spring is less than six-weeks away.
Really? In Canada?
Groundhog shadow or no, of course there are going to be six more weeks of winter in Canada. Six weeks from Groundhog Day takes you to mid-March. Maybe in Punxsutawney it is reasonable to hope for spring in mid-March, but not anywhere in this country, outside of British Columbia where, as far as is known, there are no groundhogs with funny names.
So what is the point of doing this whole groundhog thing? So we can enjoy being silly? There are lots of ways of doing that without bothering innocent rodents.
So here’s an idea. Valentine’s Day could use some silliness. The kissing and chocolate are good, but sometimes it gets a bit solemn, particularly in those television commercials for jewelry. Also, there is no predictive value in Valentine’s Day: nothing that happens that day tells us anything about when spring is coming.
The next step is obvious -- combine Valentine’s Day and Groundhog Day as part of Winterlude. That injects a bit of new life into all three events. It could work in many ways, but one might be that if the Ice Hog comes out on Feb. 14 and sees a heart-shaped chocolate, that means six more weeks of winter.
This could all be done on the canal, if there is ice on it. If the Ice Hog comes out on the canal and sees water, it means that the Ice Hog had better learn to swim pretty fast.
That makes sense. Six weeks from Feb. 14 takes us just about into April, where spring is an actual possibility. Canadians would actually be glad to think of only six more weeks of winter from then and their happiness might induce them to purchase more chocolate, take their sweetie out to dinner and support the local economy.
Then, just to make it interesting, there could be a possible down-side to the Ice Hog’s prediction. The Wiarton Willie thing is boring because the worst thing that can happen is you get spring in mid-March. What if the Ice Hog comes out on Valentine’s Day, doesn’t see chocolate and that means no spring until May? That would put a little juice into it.
It could even create some betting opportunities at our new casino.
Having rejuvenated Valentine’s Day, put some spark into Winterlude and some logic into Groundhog Day, there remains only the task of giving this new wonderful event a catchy name. This will not be easy because we know that the federal government will want to name it, as it wants to name everything, after Sir John A. Macdonald. However, that is not a very good name for a groundhog.