The Gift of Groundhog Day January 25th, 2008

Can you feel it?  The Season is upon us.  We are one week away – G minus seven days.  Already my friends are nudging me – “It’s almost … you-know-what!” – the radio stations are calling – “We’re here with screenwriter Danny Rubin.  Danny, can you believe it’s been fifteen years since the movie came out?  Did you ever think we’d be here on the radio still talking about it after all this time?” – and, of course, it’s cold and snowy outside, but not the Christmas fun and frolic cold and snowy, but the mid-winter I’m sick of scraping ice off the windshield cold and snowy.  It is the Season of the Groundhog.

When I took my idea about a man stuck in time and set it in Punxsutawney PA on February 2nd, I had no idea what a great gift I was giving myself.   I did have a vague idea that, if successful, the movie would play on TV every year on that date, making the script more attractive from a marketing point of view.  But the link between the movie and the holiday is so strong that the messages of optimism and empowerment delivered by the movie have conflated with the global human desire to gather together during the dark middle days of winter and bolster each others’ resolve to make it to spring.  Holiday-wise speaking, Groundhog Day became the perfect storm.

One of the delights of my first-hand experience of Ghog Day in Punxsutawney was the discovery of how light-hearted the whole thing is.  

From far away we might see it as a goofy little community tradition that means practically nothing except perhaps to weathermen who have something new to talk about on that day.  But the thing is everyone there knows it’s a silly holiday and so they wallow in it.  If it weren’t so goofy it wouldn’t be so much fun.  The wise elders of the Inner Circle knew exactly what the holiday required, and to my way of thinking, the tone they set of light-hearted celebration is just right for a beach-starved soul.

Short of going to Punxsutawney or raising one’s own personal groundhog, how would a person celebrate Groundhog Day?  Many of the movie’s fans have embraced the annual holiday as I have and they write and tell me about their emerging traditions.  Some watch the movie on that day every year.  Others hold parties where everyone eats food items referred to in the movie, such as white chocolate and blood sausage.  They dance to the Pennsylvania Polka.   They try to make it their best day ever.

My own Groundhog Day starts with the best tradition ever.  The best.  You’re going to love this.

I have a secret admirer.  It’s nothing weird or stalker-ish – just an appreciative fan who happens to live here in Santa Fe.  Every year on February 2nd she leaves a gift on my porch (I’m guessing it’s a “she” because of the handwriting).  A balloon, a book, a toy groundhog, a cake… Every year is different, and simple, and special.  It is a gift that can only be received – there is no expectation of reciprocation of any kind.  It’s a pure gift. 

I remember reading somewhere of an American Indian tradition of gift giving.  You leave a gift somewhere you know the person will find it.  No note.  No expectation of gratitude.  It is a gift purely given and purely received.  Like my groundhog gift.

I’d love to write a movie that would establish secret gift giving as a new tradition to be embraced, replacing a kind of obligation gifting that seems to have become the rule in our culture. I’d love to write such a film, but frankly I’d be afraid of ruining the American economy (too late?).   Isn’t there some huge statistic about what percentage of annual business is done by retailers during the December holiday season?  I bet most of those purchases are obligation gifts.  Still, I highly advocate finding a deserving person and giving them an anonymous gift.  It’s a great thing.

After I’ve enjoyed my porch present and had a cup of fresh ground (hog) coffee, the rest of the day I get to field phone calls from well wishers, old friends, relatives, and many people who wouldn’t cross the street to say boo to me on my birthday (February 13th, thank you very much).  Groundhog Day has become the day people who know me think of me and follow up with a friendly note or call.  That, too, is a great gift.

In terms of a formal celebration, usually there is none.  But increasingly Louise and I use Feb 2 as an excuse to hold a dance party, as we are doing this year.  We serve up a big pot of “Groundhog Stew” (substituting any variety of meats and veggies for the main ingredient; here, the name of the stew is key), push the furniture against the walls, and do things people our age should no longer be contemplating to music that nobody listens to anymore.  I’m looking forward to it.

I’ve created a space in the Laboratory section of my website for you to share your own way of celebrating the holiday.   Perhaps you can pick up ideas from each other, and who knows – years from now we may find ourselves all celebrating in similar ways.

People are always thanking me for writing Groundhog Day, and to all of you I say, “You’re very welcome.”  But from my perspective, the gift has come back to me in spades, year after year offering unencumbered delight, as if from a secret admirer. 

Best gift I ever got.

  

17 Comments »

Comment by A Long
2008-01-26 06:20:33

You picked the one holiday with the most potential. The underdeveloped one sitting in the middle of the slowest part of the year.

As for your line, “…Isn’t there some huge statistic about what percentage of annual business is done by retailers during the December holiday season?” You’ve cited an exaggeration–an assumption that year-end purchases are all given as gifts when it’s more a season of discounts enjoyed by frugal consumers.

Which brings me to an unsettling question–Will the Groundhog Day holiday become too commercialized? (And maybe also.) What would Phil Connors think?

 
Comment by K in Baltimore
2008-01-26 11:17:49

I love the idea of unexpected gifts around GHD…

…and to respond to A Long’s post, how about gifts that do not cost money?

* Plantus Ground Hogus: Take some plants from your garden and drop them on your neighbor’s back steps, one of our alley neighbors does this once a year. We’re always delighted to see what new green thing we’re adding to our garden (and perhaps that has overgrown her garden).

* StewTwo Ground Hogus: Cook an extra portion of Monday night stew and bring it to the elderly person or couple in the neighborhood.

* Kidkvelt Ground Hogus: Offer to take two kids of friends/neighbors for an inexpensive dinner and a movie (Ground Hog Day, perhaps?)

* Soapyauto Ground Hogus: Wash your neighbor’s car.

* Put together a scrapbook for your mom and/or dad of non-Ground Hog Day memories — activities that remain very special because you only did them once. Here’s one of mine: when the new super-duper airport opened in our city at 3 AM, when I was about 11, my Dad agreed to line up to be the first people to enter the airport.

Other ideas?
I am sure Danny could come up with other ideas and certainly better names for the gifts….. how about you?

Comment by A Long
2008-01-26 14:27:17

You are correct, gifts needn’t cost money. In fact, the day needn’t be about gifts–it could be about giving. At least, that’s the way Phil Connors came to live it.

It might also be about improving one’s self. Phil also enjoyed that. Such improvement could then lead to additional ways of giving. (For example, a person could take some first aid training through the Red Cross.)

Perhaps Groundhog Day, the holiday, can be the point in the year where the exuberance of New Year’s Resolutions making meets the reality of one’s gumption and our efforts to improve ourselves are pared back to just those meaningful enough to follow through.

 
 
Comment by Mr. Tangent
2008-01-27 16:24:51

Great post and story about the anonymous gift giver. I was referred by your brother over at Netflix via the community board there, and was amazed to find out that you wrote Groundhog Day! It’s one of my all time favorite films, comedic or otherwise! I think you should pursue the idea of a film based on anonymous gift givers. It sounds like a wonderful premise (I’m reminded of the brilliant film Amelie for some reason, where she finds the child’s toys in her house stuck in a deep recess long forgotten, and she finds the owner of the toys, who has since grown up and gives them back to him anonymously. It was very heart warming).

So, thank you for the great blog entry. Enjoy your Groundhog Day!

Comment by danny
2008-01-27 20:41:25

Thanks, Mr Tangent. Enjoy your Ghog Day as well. If you see my brother over at the netflix comunity board site, tell him I said hello, and thanks for the referral. And keep up the great work at Netflix. Oh, and ask if he’s spoken to Gab lately. All right – thanks again.

Comment by dr. israelievitch aka dr dream
2008-01-31 12:50:00

Gab here. brother left a message yesterday. can we have a ghd sib celeb? instead of secret santas, perhaps secret groundhogs? love

 
 
 
Comment by Danny
2008-01-31 17:44:17

gab – good suggestion! Now every Feb 2 when someone leaves a groundhog where I’ll find it I’ll never know where it came from. Never. It’s brilliant.
love, your secret brother. Shhh.

Comment by dr. israelievitch aka dr dream
2008-02-01 10:32:07

hey, what’s with the groundhog down my chimney???????

 
 
Comment by Danny
2008-02-01 10:38:39

Oh yeah? Well what’s with all these groundhog eggs hidden all over my yard?

Comment by dr. israelievitch aka dr dream
2008-02-03 06:29:19

check closely. i bet they have netflix logos on them.

 
 
Comment by BJ
2008-02-14 07:13:58

Wow, just found your blog today, sorry to miss your birthday yesterday. Wanted to say “Thank you!” for the movie, and including a groundhog named Scooter to play Phil. On the day that my husband and I met, (GHD 2003), we watched the Movie in the Community Center in Punxsutawney, and left part way through…I suddenly really wanted a puppet that the Chamber of Commerce had for sale, and we bolted out to purchase one before they closed.
We each bought a puppet (Scooter and Radar), long distance puppets turned into photos, into romance, into a GHD wedding, into a Myspace that the boys (now five) are featured on. (Gradually adding five years worth of travel pics)
If there hadn’t been a movie to watch and cuddle with after freezing all day, there wouldn’t have been an overwhelming need for a puppet or two. Without the puppets, he never would have had the courage to hold my hand, or ask me to marry him.
Thanks for the ripple effect of happiness. If you wanted to see some of our goofy photos, our myspace ID is http://www.myspace.com/travelingmarmots
I hope you had a happy birthday, and that your brother is doing better.

Comment by danny
2008-02-16 14:32:02

Your site cracked me up! Thanks for visiting mine, and for the kind thoughts.

Comment by BJ
2008-02-18 01:11:56

Surprised, and happy that you stopped by…and a cyber hug to you and your brother

 
 
 
Comment by E.C. Henry
2008-02-17 05:17:56

Great website, Mr. Rubin. I got here by link from Billy Mernit’s “Living the Romantic Comedy” website. Recently he re-posted about “The Hidden Heroine,” I read a comment I think you posted, and meandered over to your site, after procrastinating against writing a rom-com I’m currently penning, which I got up at 3 a.m. this morning to write — thank you very much!

Anyway, it sounds like your very pleased with your work in “Groundhog Day.” I think you’ve handled the attention this story and script has bestowed upon you like a true pro. YOU SHOULD ENJOY your successes.

One question I did have for you was, do you feel trapped by the success you’ve had with “Groundhog Day?” Looking at the rest of the slate of scripts you’ve written, it’s not like one can “Groundhog Day” is all you ever did. Clearly it is not. But do you pigeonholled in your career by that script? Just currious.

Well-p, time to re-stick my nose to grindstone and get back to writing my new romantic comedy spec. Wrote 14 pages in Final Draft yesterday, which for a first draft is very good for me. (I’ve already loosey outlined the whole thing, but then I find when I type in the story in Final Draft it morphs and takes a more organic life of its own. I really only outline to give me a fallback, the momentum confidence going in that I know where the story can go)
This new spec. is the 2nd pure romantic comedy I’ve writen to date (I’ve written and completed 9 others). I’m trying to finish it in time time for the Nicholl’s competion. Not living in LA, I’m forced to resort to going the contest route.

– E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA

 
Comment by Franklin
2009-08-30 17:23:10

How did it cost to start up this blog…I want to start my own.

 
2010-10-25 01:56:29

This was a really good writeup by the author hope to come back more very soon.

 
Comment by Ashley Stearns
2011-02-02 08:23:44

What a beautiful essay, Danny. Thank you for sharing it. Thinking along the lines of giving a gift with no expectation of reciprocity (one of the reasons Groundhog Day has been my favorite holiday for quite some time, its complete disimilarity to Christmas), check out the Random Acts of Bling website:

http://blingonashoestringjewelry.com/blog/random-acts-of-bling/

She really does give away jewelry. I won a beautiful pair of amethyst earrings for another entrant who seemed to be having a difficult time with her birthday. The idea behind the contest is so simple – give a gift to someone you don’t really know who needs a beautiful pick-me-up. The barrister at your Starbuck’s who’s taking final exams; a coworker who’s having a hard time with her boss; your mail carrier who’s going through a divorce, whomever. Just a little something sparkly. Really lovely theme. The contest director credits Oprah as her inspiration, but who’s to say that Oprah wasn’t inspired by Danny Rubin?

Anyway – thanks for making my favorite day (every day?) so incredibly meaningful, Danny. I will be thinking ‘Happy Birthday, Danny’ on the 13th.

 
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