Texan Thermopylae

Leonidas

In 2006, a film adaptation of the ancient Spartan Battle of Thermopylae wowed the American movie-going crowd with its pornographic-like violence. The film, 300, introduced to the masses the story of King Leonidas and his paltry band of soldiers who met the Persian King Xerxes  and his force of 300,000 men on the battlefield. Of course, the film plays with history a bit, as Leonidas had ancillaries to his battalion of 300, raising his force to about 5,000 or so men. Nonetheless, the story is remembered for the immolation of Leonidas’ army–himself included in the melee. Xerxes showed no quarter, slaughtering all of the Spartans and would win the day. In fact, Xerxes would go on to conquer and hold much of Greece during his lifetime, only to abandon his campaign due to civil unrest in his capital. The Greeks were able to route the remnant Persian forces and win Greece for Grecians.

FalloftheAlamo

Santayana’s maxim (“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’)  is made true by the retelling of the massacres of small bands of brothers against insurmountable odds. Not every outnumbered commander wins the day. And when it comes to the Alamo in San Antonio, Thermopylae is a mere skirmish compared to the those who, as the Daughters of the Republic of Texas say, immolated themselves in the name of Texas freedom. Texas settlers sought to break free from Mexican rule over what is now Southern Texas. Mexico was granted independence from Spain, but Texas was left as part of the newly independent Mexico. In late February of 1836, a small battalion of volunteers, led by William Travis and supported by James Bowie and Davy Crockett, defended the fortifications known as “the Alamo” from the 2000-strong Mexican Army led by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. The Texas defenders, at 189 volunteers, women and children, faced a well-organized force under Santa Anna. Retreating to the old mission chapel on the grounds of the Alamo, the Texans refused surrender. Santa Anna laid siege to the makeshift fort, and declared that no quarter would be given–everyone who fought against him would die.

The events ended as dramatically as Thermopylae, with the utter destruction of Travis, Bowie, Crockett and 189 others. Santa Anna would hold dominion over San Antonio for a few years, until his exhausted supply chains and distance from home led to his own defeat at the Battle of San Jacinto. Texas would briefly exist as its own, free nation, under constant harassment from Mexico. These skirmishes would continue until the Mexican-American War in 1846 that ended not only the Mexican claim over Texas, but the Republic of Texas itself–as it joined the US as a state.

Downtown San Antonio - November 2010

Like any monument, the Alamo seems smaller in person than on postcards. What is known as the Alamo started off as a house of peace. The modest stone mission chapel was once part of a grand compound where the Spanish missionaries hoped to convert the local Indian tribes to Catholicism. By 1790, the mission closed, and the stone chapel became first a hospital, then a military garrison for the settlement of San Antonio. The incursion of the Spanish padres into what would become Texas lay the foundation for this future battle, as the Spanish, through their mission work, established a colonial foothold in a region populated by migrating colonists from the British colonies and later, settlers from the United States of America.

Walking the grounds of the Alamo, I found myself in a constant cognitive dissonance. Here was a battlefield dressed in the vocabulary of the Spanish Catholic mission. The once prairie fields were full of manicured sod and parking lot cement. Signage and markers help to solemnize this place, asking the visitor for silence and respect. At the doorstep there is a brass bar, where legend says William Travis drew his “line in the sand” asking volunteers to give their lives for Texas independence. The prose of these historical markers uses turns of phrase such as “martyrdom” and “immolation” to describe the acts that happened on these “hallowed” grounds. Walking down the nave of the old chapel, with fieldstone floors polished and worn by millions of curious footsteps, I arrived at the back of the nave, in the old “choir” section of the chapel. It was here that the last of the Alamo defenders were slaughtered. One could easily be convinced that the dim, dank chill in the air is of death, indelibly stained on this place. It is of course more probable that the chill is from the piped in air conditioning. What caused this dissonance was not the tranquility that this shrine provided on a busy San Antonio day, but how something so sacred could be so profitable.

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Looking at old photos of the compound, the Alamo was victim of a different Texas innovation–unbridled free marketeering. Within 30 years of the battle, and 20 years of the victory of the US over Mexico in the Mexican American War, the Alamo grounds became a commercial center. The old buildings were not set aside as a memorial, but were re purposed as a storehouse and retail establishment. While the chapel was left alone to ruin, the barracks and grounds were sold off to develop the new San Antonio. Hotels now stood sentinel where Davy Crockett and James Bowie once did. After 50 years of neglect and abuse, the Daughters of the Republic of Texas began to administer the grounds as a “shrine” to Texas independence. And even after that development, billboards, towering hotels and souvenir shops sit proximate to where Santa Anna’s army once camped. It is hard to take the Daughters seriously, not when so much of the Alamo story can be had so cheaply.

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While much of the site has been stripped of its old, commercial past, retail seems to be as indelible of a stain as death on this place. Upon exiting the chapel, into a modest side courtyard, the visitor passes through the gift shop before earning parole. The tourist can stock up on all kinds of memorabilia, from a coon-skin cap to a commemorative Bowie Knife to thimbles and pressed pennies. While these sort of souvenirs do keep museums afloat, there is something particularly cheap about a place of such sacrifice offering wares so close to where so many died so tragically. One can’t help wonder a hundred years hence if say, the World Trade Center memorial might look the same way, with ample gift shops alongside benedictions and bronze markers.

I breeze through the gift corner, wanting to re-capture my sense of poignancy about this place, a place that for a brief moment held the last gasp of people seeking to live a free life as they understood it. And like those much older Spartans sacrificed on the war altar, this overall battle in the annals of history is muted, meaningless even. There is no Republic of Texas, just like there is no Sparta. The vanity of nations can be fleeting, especially upon those who cling to that ideal so very closely against odds. We like to think that those sacrifices are not in vain. We like to ascribe timeless meaning to days like the Battle of the Alamo. But perhaps those days belong to only to those who lived them, and their time, and their nation as they knew it in that moment. All we have are lessons not to repeat, and the detritus of past events to remind us of those lessons.

Alamo Night (HDR)

Leonidas Photo Credit: Photo credit: Maurdyn / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Battle of the Alamo: Photo credit: Foter / Public domain http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:FalloftheAlamo.jpg

Hugo Schmeltzer Photo: Public Domain/CC/ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Hugo%26Schmeltzer.jpg

Cradle of Liberty Photo credit: Loadmaster / Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Alamo daytime Photo credit: nan palmero / Foter.com / CC BY

Alamo HDR Photo credit: Knowsphotos / Foter / CC BY-NC

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A Crystal City Renaissance

Crystal City

When I lived in the Washington, DC area, Arlington’s Crystal City was not a place where I’d spend my free time. After all, the thin strip of corporate offices and street side eateries offered very little by way of the “authentic” experience in DC. Crystal City was a place near the airport, where the hotel chains lined the main drag, the restaurants were a sampling of every place USA, and the apartments housed Senators and Representatives who’d bed there just to keep close enough to the airport so they could dash off. Crystal City was a company town–housing Department of Defense and other governmental offices, providing a labyrythine underground to keep denizens connected from office to shops to apartment. Some people could go days without ever leaving the stale air of sealed towers, tunnels and throughways.

Yet in the past few years, as housing becomes more and more expensive in the DC area, the once waystation convention land has become a bit more vibrant since my last visit. While you won’t strain to find the Green Mermaid or a “Chik’in” sandwich from the national chains, you will also find local restauranteurs have opened sister stores on this side of the Potomac, offering some of the best and trendiest DC dinner places to Northern Virginia.

My most recent trip back to the region found me snowed into my hotel, unable to meet with my company and clients due to another “polar vortex.” I found myself stranded in Crystal City, and reliant upon whatever good cheer I could find. And of all the times in the areas recent history, to be stuck in Crystal City in 2014 was not the worst thing that could happen to me.

The area is one of many “unincorporated” business districts found in Arlington, Virginia–the expansive corporate answer to Greco-Roman Washington’s gallery of temples. Arlington is the business end of the nation’s capital, where contracting firms have snuggled up against the edges of the Pentagon for warmth and fat federal contracts. (Bureaucrats call these folks “Beltway Bandits.” They prefer to be called “Parkway Patriots.”). Crystal City was developed to be a “downtown” of sorts for the area, on the Metrorail system, near National Airport and the Pentagon.

Planned utopia aside, The very name of  “Crystal City” is enigmatic. In a town of marble and limestone, having a corner of glass and steel seems refreshingly  20th century. While the creators of Crystal City claimed to have come up with the name in their own right, DC history buffs will know that it was Frank Lloyd Wright who proposed building a “Crystal City” north of DuPont Circle in 1940. His concept included a vast hotel/residential/commercial expanse that would have had commanding views of downtown DC, but was never realized. (The Hilton in DuPont now sits where FLLW wanted to put his shining city on a hill). What came after Wright’s vision was in name only, as Crystal City would rise out of the abandoned rail yards along the Potomac, far from the iconic DC buildings, and far less grand in design.

Good Stuff Eatery

What spawned this revival was not goodwill and a sense of civic altruism. The Congressional “Base Realignment and Closure Commission,” or BRAC, was charged with reducing the Department of Defense presence in communities around the country, to reflect the change in warfare and preparedness from the old fort system of WWII to the modern military. And so, Crystal City lost its largest occupant, the Department of Defense. Faced with a glut of empty office space, the Crystal City owners got creative, and called for a grand plan to make Crystal City a residential community with complete redevelopment. Local pundits panned the proposal as “Crystal Pity”–an impossible dream. Yet two years on, Crystal City is renewing, and well.

The recent business improvements to the Crystal City core have attracted a gallery of some of my favorite DC eats–Gallery Place’s Jaleo for Spanish tapas, Spike Mendelsohn’s “Good Stuff Eatery” and “We the Pizza.” Upscale chains, like Bar Louie and Ted’s Steakhouse sit alongside smaller fare, like BW-3’s. And, if you tire of Starbucks, there is an Illy coffeehouse in the new Renaissance hotel. Culture through the Synetic Theatre brings modern spin to Shakespeare’s classics. These businesses arrived not to cater to the conventioneer or business road warrior–who traditionally crave the foods and hotels they know. The arrival of foodie favorites in the region proves that Crystal City has moved from being the banal everyconventioncenterland to a growing community. Over six thousand people call this area home now, and over 60,000 work there. It is a a small town that’s developing a culture against the granite and glass boxes that define its space.

Now, I do not recommend spending three nights in Crystal City if you are new to DC. However, if you are looking for safe launching pad mere moments from downtown, and a refuge from the weather and bustle, Crystal City can shelter you.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Crystal City Photo Credit: http://mopostal.tumblr.com/post/387653168/crystal-heights-mixed-use-development-proposal

Crystal City Moonrise Photo credit: Chris Wieland / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Good Stuff Photo credit: jpellgen / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Strip http://www.theeisengroup.com/projects/crystal-city/

Delightful Wilmington Delaware?

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When most people are asked to name all 50 US States from memory, there are always a few poor states that are left behind in the retelling. Most people know the states that have North or South in their names (Dakotas, Carolinas), the ones who share a name with a big college football team (Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Texas, Florida, ‘Bama, Missouri), the big states (California, Montana, Alaska) or even 12 of the 13 original English colonies. But it is that little first state in the Union, Delaware, that goes overlooked. After all it is but three counties, hiding on Maryland’s backside. Up until Joe Biden’s ascendency, no one knew anyone from Delaware even. As for pop culture, Delaware’s only recent claim to fame was Ed Norton’s implosion of Wilmington, home to the great American insurance industry, at the climax of the 90’s cult classic, Fight Club.

I didn’t find Wilmington to be worthy of implosion on my visit to America’s insurance and chemical capital. Rival states may seek such an implosion, as the key to Delaware’s survival has been to become a bit of a tax haven for corporate interests as well as offering tax-free shopping. Not every state could pull this off of course. as Delaware’s tiny footprint on the east coast allows for a better balance between its population and its corporate settlers. Delaware is a bit like the Switzerland of America in that respect–hands-off and regulation free.

Nestled on the Acela line on Amtrak, Wilmington is a modest stop along the American eastern seaboard, between Baltimore and Philadelphia. At a mere 70,000 people, Wilmington is Delaware’s largest city. Too small to be a Philly metropolis, and too big to be an unnoticed suburb to Baltimore, Wilmington is a bit of a Goldilocks. Culturally, the presence of Philly food (cheesesteaks, pretzels) served by polite people with Bawltimore accents (hon!) can be a bit disorienting.

Wilmington Station

I often wonder, when pundits gripe about politicians and their pork barrel spending, if they ever see the fruits of their own Senator’s labor. In DC, the debate seems abstract. But to visit far and away states and to stand in great buildings, upon mountaintops, and on bridges named for long-time pollcats is another matter. On the very day that my train pulled into Wilmington’s Amtrak station, Joe Biden was there to kick of the rehabilitation of the decrepit, Victorian age rusticle that was Wilmington Station into a gem of the Amtrak system. It of course, didn’t hurt that Biden’s long tenure in the Senate allowed him to move most of Amtrak’s operations to Delaware, and of course, to be honored by having the station he used to commute from Delaware to DC named in his honor.

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Politics aside, the station gives a glimpse of the golden age of US rail travel–an age that never ended in Europe, but was thoroughly demolished after World War II in the new, big, free, Buick-in-every-driveway America. Amtrak sometimes feels a bit like the worst of social democracy. The Germans keep a tidy, efficient system. Ours feels a bit like the thread attaching a morose American version of the Gulag Archipelago.

Once on the streets outside of the station, I began my walk up to my hotel. It was only a mile and a half, but the taxi drivers insisted it was safer to drive. Wilmington did have a reputation as a crime-ridden place, but in the years after 9-11, Wilmington pioneered the use of street cameras to deter and record crimes. I felt safe enough to make the sprint up to Rodney Square, where I was staying. Of course, upon arriving at my hotel I checked the stats. Wilmington remains one of the deadliest cities per capita in America, with 150 murders in a city of 70,000 in 2013. This might explain the absence of foot traffic I saw at noon, on a sunny day. How could it be, that in a town noted for being a corporate headquarters haven, could such crime exist? Perhaps it is because the great divide between financiers who live in the Brandywine Valley and commute into the tiny downtown enclave pretty much avoid the daily bustle of Wilmington.

Caesar Rodney

At the center of town is Rodney Square; its centerpiece is an equestrian statue of Delaware’s founding father, Caesar Rodney (who is also featured on the obverse of Delaware’s contribution to the US Quarter series). Only known to A students of high school history, Rodney cast Delaware’s vote for independence, after making a midnight dash by horseback from Dover to Philadelphia.

Hotel DuPont lobby, Wilmington, Delaware

If staying in Wilmington, it doesn’t get much better than the Hotel DuPont, built by scions of the great American chemical manufacturer. Modeled to resemble a French chateau, the lobby’s ancient wood coiffured ceiling is worth a look, as artificial Honeysuckle aromatics are pumped into the lobby to create that calming effect.

Wilmington, and most of Delaware, was founded not by Brits (as in Pennsylvania), Catholics (as in Maryland) or the Dutch (as in New York). Swedes first Steeple for Webemigrated to this corner of America in 1654. The settlement of “New Sweden” was short-lived, as the few Swedes who made the trek were quickly subjugated by Peter Stuyvesant’s New Amsterdam (which was in turn, sold off to the British). Aside from the Swedish flag serving as a stand in for the city’s banner, the only other evidence of this early heritage is by way of the Christina River–named for Queen Christina of Sweden (1626-1689).

Other colonial roots, of later settlers include one of the fee strongholds of the Swedenborgian Church, located a few blocks from Wilmington’s downtown core. The Swedenborgians were a schismatic sect of Christianity, founded by the Swedish scientist Emmanuel Swedenborg in the 1750’s. The main tenants of his teaching was vegetarianism, a rejection of the Trinity, and the belief that he witnessed the Last Judgement in 1757, visited Heaven and Hell, and wrote treatises to guide his followers through a new, uncharted age.  After his death, devotees in England expanded his teachings into a new sect. A mere 10,000 worldwide members keep the church alive today in pockets of America, such as Newton, Massachusetts and Wilmington. It not a growing church but a bit of an insular sect–its most famous members being the Gyllenhaal actors.  The church’s decor is English Gothic, matching the period in which the church was founded by English followers of Swedenborg. The old church is still attended by those few members, who likely commute into Wilmington to attend church before scurrying back to their suburbs.

Feeling a certain need to get back onto the main drag myself, back in view of the cameras, I headed toward the “Riverfront” park along the Christina River. The walk terminates at a renovated warehouse-turned-boutique mall. I looked for what the locals seemed to eat. Again, being wedged between Philly and Baltimore left bizarre options. Settling for the local Dogfish Head ales, made in Delaware, I chose the Philly pretzel–that smushed, soft variety, as a pairing.

Philly Pretzels

Wilmington, like Charlotte, North Carolina and Hartford, Connecticut, presents a business traveler with a real challenge. It is very easy to miss the charm of the city, as so much of it has been rendered charmless by the presence of corporate glass office buildings and a foreboding citizenry under the watchful and odious eye of Big Brother. That is one take of Wilmington, and ostensibly the whole of Delaware. Wilmington can come off as the dour old maiden aunt to the counter-cultural Newark and Rehobeth Beach that offer something more exciting for the young. The town seems to be one best taken on foot, and at least in my experience, I didn’t find myself dodging bullets. What lies beneath is a quixotic heritage, a cultural blend of the best of Philly and the kindness of Baltimore with nodding references to its Swedish past and Biden-filled present. And those things do make this corner of tax-free Delaware, well, delightful.

Welcome to Wilmington: Source–http://www.theguardian.com/business/2009/apr/10/tax-havens-blacklist-us-delaware

Joseph R. Biden Jr. Wilmington Station Photo credit: RW Sinclair / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Crazy Uncle Joe Photo credit: The White House / Foter.com

Hotel DuPont Photo credit: Boston Public Library / Foter.com / CC BY

Rodney Monument Photo credit: ChrisHConnelly / Foter.com / CC BY

Philly Pretzel Photo credit: slgckgc / Foter.com / CC BY

Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day Historic Marker

Received wisdom is a tricky thing. Most folks will meander through life rarely bothering to ask why things are the way they are. This is especially true of holidays on the calendar. Over the years, I have tired of a lot of those “received” holidays–those days reserved by tradition or federal law. When I think of the holidays set aside as “federal holidays,” the array does seem like a decision made by committee. Consider that we celebrate Columbus Day, honoring a man that was truly vile and was probably a pirating genocide artist. But Columbus was Italian, and to make Italian-American voters happy (and to continue with the farce that America was “discovered”) we continue that holiday. Or take Presidents’ Day, a holiday that was once reserved for Washington and Lincoln alone, now extends to the likes of Millard Fillmore, Richard Nixon, the Bushes and Obama. Independence Day was believed by some founding fathers to by July 2.  Labor Day in the US is not May 1 like it is everywhere else in the world (because May 1 was the communist and socialist holiday), etc. Then there are of course the homage holidays–those set aside for momma, daddy and valentines. Every day is their day, really.

Here on the Eclectic, I have taken up honoring some other holidays (Knut’s Day, The Armistice, Guy Fawkes Day, September 11), days that I revere and remember. Those days tie into my own family heritage, a certain rekindling of our Old European roots. Those days are also personal, having influenced my professional life. And chief among these holidays, for the former reason, is Groundhog Day. This peculiar observation, started by German immigrants to Pennsylvania centuries ago, was a turning point in my childhood calendar. Here, on this day, a rodent was invested with the duty to declare the winter doldrums to be over. In preschool, we would draw a Punxsutawny Phil groundhog on paper and glue his likeness to a popsicle stick. From there, we’d draw a landscape on another sheet of paper, with a little slit in the heath for the marmot to poke up through. Amazingly, I recall coloring the sky grey, earning a scolding from my Baptist schoolmarm. She declared that the sky could only be colored blue (how stereotypical). Clearly she didn’t bother to look out the window for the past five months. Thus, my earliest memories, of the Pennsylvanian homeland are of this odd ritual, and of course, questioning received wisdom and authority.

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Unless that wisdom springs from the groundhog of course. Like so many traditions, the roots of this particular holiday trace much farther back in time. Ancient Celts and pagans centered much of their worship on sacred animals. In one tradition, called Imbolc, the pre-Christian Germans and Celts would honor the passing of winter by worshiping a bear,  badger, or marmot; looking to the fuzzy mammal for a sign of winter’s end. As the old world was converted to Christianity, the tradition was absorbed by German Catholics as part of the celebrations of Candlemas (Read: The feast of the presentation of Jesus at the temple. How is that like presenting a rodent to the faithful?) For the Candlemas holy day, the devout often place candles in their windows. That tradition is also ubiquitous in Pennsylvania and beyond, as their denizens often keep electric candles on the window sill year ’round.) As the casting of a shadow by the morning sun would allegedly scare the sacred animal away, and with it, the hope of spring, Light (holy or otherwise), plays a role in the tradition.

The light in the Window

As the first waves of Germans settled in Pennsylvania, they brought their winter tradition with them. However, no sacred bears or badgers could be found. The groundhog, that lovable over-sized ground squirrel, became a substitute god. While these observations occurred in several immigrant towns around Pennsylvania, it was the event at Punxsutawny that grew beyond the mystic and became a festival, beginning officially in 1887, and enduring. Their official god is named Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators and Weather Prophet Extraordinary.

Groundhog Punxsutawney Phil climbs on the top hat of his handler after he did not see his shadow, predicting an early spring during the 127th Groundhog Day Celebration at Gobbler's Knob on February 2, 2013. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Phil

The basics of the tradition, according to the Groundhog Club’s “Inner Circle” at groundhog.org, goes like this:

“Myths such as this tie our present to the distant past when nature did, indeed, influence our lives. It is the day that the Groundhog comes out of his hole after a long winter sleep to look for his shadow. If he sees it, he regards it as an omen of six more weeks of bad weather and returns to his hole. If the day is cloudy and, hence, shadowless, he takes it as a sign of spring and stays above ground. The groundhog tradition stems from similar beliefs associated with Candlemas Day and the days of early Christians in Europe, and for centuries the custom was to have the clergy bless candles and distribute them to the people. Even then, it marked a milestone in the winter and the weather that day was important.”

Under the constant care of the “Inner Circle,” local fanboys in tuxedos and top hats tend to the needs of Punxsutawny Phil. Now in his 125th year, Phil is kept alive with a special elixir that gives him 7 more years of life, so they say. As a weatherman, he is about as accurate as any other, coming in correct about 39% of the time. When not on the clock, that is to say, during the other 364 days a year, Phil lives in an elaborate wing of the local public library, on display for tourists, with his “wife” Phyllis to keep him company. On the big day, Phil is transferred to the ceremonial Gobbler’s Knob, a big empty field with a stump on a stage, where he is fitfully hoisted from the tree stump at the appointed hour. He then whispers into the president of the Inner Circle’s ear, in “Groundhogese” (a form of Pennsylvania Dutch, or Amish German), his proclamation for the year.

Groundhog Day

In its nadir in the 1970’s, the day would draw a few dozens souls would brave the cold and hike out to Gobbler’s Knob, the ceremonial home of Phil, and await his prognostication. Today, this event has gained national notoriety, picked up by the news media and popularized in the 1993 classic film, Groundhog Day. Pennsylvania politicians and presidential contenders seek him out for a photo op. The modest town of 5500 people grows to 30,000 or more for the week. The region cashes in–this year’s economic benefit could top $5 million as Time magazine reports. Of course, animal rights activists have pleaded to let Phil return to the wild, instead of being held in a large zoo-like display at the public library (he does live there with his “wife” Phyllis.) Other towns around America have tried to promote their own rodent as the true seer of seers, but the faithful know that Punxsutawny Phil is the one, true groundhog.

I am not alone in my adoration of this day. The 1993 eponymous film has become a legendary part of American culture. The central plot, of Bill Murray’s vile weatherman forced to relive Groundhog Day until he becomes a compassionate human being, has been lauded for its Eastern philosophy-like exploration of cyclical rebirth and renewal. In 2004, National Review’s Jonah Goldberg declared that film the greatest of all time (and I am inclined to agree). And in The Atlantic in 2013, the film was praised for its exploration of metaphysics. You needn’t go that far to realize the film is inspired by the very nature of this holiday–the natural declaration of rebirth and renewal, heralded by an unlikely mascot.

Aside from going to Pennsylvania to join the revelers at Gobbler’s Knob, how might you celebrate this day of renewal? Well, I tend to watch the film, just as people at Christmas might watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “A Christmas Story.” I make an excuse to eat meatloaf (Ground Hog, get it?) and root vegetables, unless a Super Bowl intercedes. I might dust of my Pittsburgese and start “yammerin abaht how awful the Super Bowl will be withaht the Stillers innit.” Chances are, the Pennsylvania Polka will be played more than once.  I often retell my preschool story and revel in my proud Pennsylvania heritage, to the ire of my friends and non-native family. Someday, I imagine I will take my kiddo on the pilgrimage to Gobbler’s Knob, to behold the world’s greatest weatherman at the height of his powers declare in his native Groundhogese the end of winter. Maybe I’ll teach him to color his skies grey instead of blue for his preschool class. Maybe he’ll yammer about Phil to his own kids.

But most of all, I celebrate the end of another long, hard winter…either now, or in six weeks.

Candlemas Photo credit: martinak15 / Foter / CC BY

Preschool Craft Photo Credit http://kiboomukidscrafts.com/preschool-groundhog-day/

Historic Marker Photo credit: jimmywayne / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Standing Groundhog Photo credit: Foter / CC BY-SA

Phil, Hoisted Photo credit: scottobear / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Phil Photo Credit Alex Wong/Getty Images