This assembly for secondary school pupils looks at the tradition of Groundhog Day, considers why we get bored of routine, and why we should think twice about it

Summary

This assembly is timed to be presented on or near February 2nd, also known as ‘Groundhog Day’, which is held annually in the United States and Canada. It discusses the meaning of this strangely labelled tradition and asks how it reflects our attitudes to life.

Resources

  • A leader and a reader.
  • Perhaps a brief extract from the song Groundhog Days by the Manic Street Preachers?

Engagement

Leader: Today we are going to start by talking about new words. Our language keeps changing, as old expressions drop out and new ones come in. Most of the time we don’t even know where they have come from or what they originally meant. Suppose you asked me a question and I didn’t know the answer. I might say; ‘Sorry – I’m completely stumped.’ Where does the idea of ‘being stumped’ come from? The answer is cricket. Like many new words, it comes from sport.

Let’s try another expression that’s associated with sport.

If I wanted to give someone a serious warning, I might say ‘Three strikes… and you’re out!’ Unlike ‘I’m stumped’, this one is very new. Nobody would have said ‘Three strikes and you’re out’ to our parents when they were at school.

So what is the sport and where does the idea come from?

[Answer: baseball − and the United States of America]

Nowadays, because we watch lots of American films and TV programmes, we pick up more and more American expressions. This morning we are going to think about another one. It is tied up with a particular day – February 2nd (today/tomorrow/this week) is called ‘Groundhog Day’. But what is a groundhog, and why does it have a day?

Reflection

There’s an old belief that birds and animals have a deep understanding of the climate that we don’t understand. Some creatures go to sleep in the winter, and people used to think that we could forecast the weather by watching what they did when they woke up. In Germany, people used to keep an eye on the hibernating badger, and, over in North America in the 18th and 19th centuries, the same custom was adopted (because the settlers had German ancestors) but using a groundhog instead − a small animal also known as a woodchuck.

The groundhog wakes up at the beginning of February. He pops his head above ground, and if it’s raining, he knows that winter is nearly over, but if the sun is out so that he can see his own shadow, he decides that more cold weather is still to come, so he goes back underground and sleeps for another six weeks.

At least, that is the theory. But are these groundhogs reliable? Over the last twenty years, they have got the forecast right eight times, and wrong seven times. The other five were ‘Maybes’ (ibid.) But this hasn’t stopped people keeping up the tradition of groundhog watch on February 2nd, year after year, in Punxsuwtaweny in the United States.

Let’s hear the first listed definition of Groundhog Day, from the Macmillan Dictionary:

Reader: ‘In the US, 2nd February, a day when some people believe that if a groundhog sees its shadow when it comes out of its hole, there will be six more weeks of winter.’

Leader: This is what we have just been talking about. But Groundhog Day acquired a completely new meaning in 1993, when a film came out called – yes – Groundhog Day. It’s about a weather forecaster called Phil who is sent to check out the ‘rat’, as he calls it, who can foretell the weather. He doesn’t like the job – mainly because he’s been sent to cover the groundhog story for four years in a row, and he’s become bored and ungrateful about his life generally. So he lets everyone know that he’s fed up, and then – when he wakes up – he finds that it’s Groundhog Day again – and again – and again. The same old Groundhog Day. He’s doomed to stay in the same place and keep meeting the same people.

The film was very popular and the idea of Groundhog Day caught on. And so now the dictionary also gives us a second meaning.

Reader: ‘A situation that happens repeatedly in exactly the same way.’

Leader: The band ‘Manic Street Preachers’ picked up on this idea in 2001 with a song called Groundhog Days. Let’s hear a few words of their lyrics.

Reader: (Sounding bored)

Is this what you do with eternity,Waking up againTo the same old thingTo the same old songs To the same old pain…

These Groundhog Days?

Leader: We don’t have groundhogs, or even celebrate Groundhog Day, in this country, and so the second meaning related to the film is more common over here. The basic idea of Groundhog Day seems to be that of total boredom, as the same old thing keeps happening over and over again.

Does that sound familiar? Like school, maybe? First lesson on Monday morning, then second lesson… and so on through the week, and then the next week it’s back to Monday morning, first lesson, same subject. Do you sometimes feel like those Manic Street Preachers… ‘Waking up again, to the same old thing’?

If so, it’s not surprising – lots of people get that Groundhog Day feeling. Much of life is routine. We have to get up, get dressed, and get off to school. What’s more, school is compulsory. We are expected to go whether we want to or not. Unlike the real groundhog, we can’t decide to go back to sleep for another six weeks.

On the other hand, routine is a good thing, because life is impossible without it. We need to know when school starts, and when it’s going to finish as well. And if we want to succeed – at music or sport for example – we have to keep on practising the same old stuff over and over again, as it’s the best way to learn. We have to keep working away at those boring repetitive tasks. But if we’re sensible we realise it will be worth it in the end.

There’s only one real Groundhog Day – and that’s February 2nd. No day ever repeats itself over and over again. We may get the same subject week by week first thing on Monday, but it won’t be exactly the same lesson, because every day is different, and every day you learn something new – whether it’s a fact in history, a new foreign word, and mathematical equation, or something new about yourself.

When that little animal pops his nose out of the burrow at the end of winter, he doesn’t know what to expect. He could get to see his own shadow – or he could feel raindrops falling on his head. For the real groundhog, the official Groundhog Day isn’t boring at all; it’s a new beginning with exciting possibilities. So let’s remember, even when things feel like they are repetitive and pointless, they are usually being repeated for a reason. ‘Being bored’ can be very boring indeed – try to see something fresh and useful in every new day. This is what Phil did in the film Groundhog Day – he started to see the benefit of every new day, and it was only then that the spell was broken and he could start to live his life properly again.

Response
Now let’s think for a few moments about why we sometimes feel bored: then maybe we won’t actually be so bored after all. Listen to this meditation and make it your prayer if you wish.

Thank God for those who never let us down,come sunshine or come rain,who do the routine jobs that keep us well,

and don’t complain.

Help us to help our friends succeed,to take them as they are.Give them the smile they need,and work to brighten up the dullest day.

For this we hope, we plan, we pray.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in January 2010

About the author: John Coutts has worked as secondary school principal in Nigeria, taught RE in Scotland, and has been involved in teaching and teacher training at the University of Greenwich. He currently works as a freelance writer, poet and performer.

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