Groundhog Day and Darwin Day: My Favorite Holidays


Several years ago, the math department at the College of Charleston, where I was a professor, hired a new administrative specialist in January. On February 2, Groundhog Day, I excitedly told her that Punxsutawney Phil had seen his shadow, which meant six more weeks of winter. When she laughed, I feigned surprise and said, "It's not nice to make fun of someone's religious beliefs. I'm from Pennsylvania, where some of us consider Groundhog Day the holiest day of the year." She then apologized profusely. Now that she knows me better, we annually joke about my "holy" day. This year, she even presented me with an autographed (paw print) picture of Phil on February 2.

I thought I had made up a new religion until learning that Groundhog Day is beginning to look a lot like Christmas, which was originally a December 25 pagan holiday. February 2 was also a pagan holiday, where people would light candles to banish dark spooks. Christians appropriated the date in the fifth century and named it Candlemas Day, where clergy would light and bless candles.

However, to my mind, February 12 is far more consequential. There is even a growing international movement to publicly celebrate February 12, Charles Darwin's birthday, as Darwin Day. With the encouragement of the American Humanist Association, Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) again this year introduced a resolution in Congress in support of Darwin Day. It recognized that Darwin's birthday is a "worthy symbol on which to celebrate the achievements of reason, science, and the advancement of human knowledge." The resolution also warned that the "teaching of creationism in some public schools compromises the scientific and academic integrity of the United States education system," and insisted that "advancement of science be protected from those unconcerned with the adverse impacts of global warming and climate change."

Though the resolution had a record number of 13 co-sponsors this year, it didn't pass. After all, the House Science Committee chair, Texas Republican Lamar Smith has publicly doubted the human origin of climate change, and Science Committee member Paul Broun (R-Ga.), has called " evolution and the big bang theory "lies straight from the pit of hell." Clearly a few Science Committee members are getting their "science" information from the Bible.

Written By: Herb Silverman
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  1. There aren’t enough days to celebrate all those people, delusions, wars, fats and everything else we celebrate. Better Idea, get rid of all holiday names and just call them all statutory-days (eg. February 17 is a statutory day in Ontario). Celebrate whatever the hell you want. If your special warm and fuzzy day isn’t a stat, tough shit, take a holiday. Why the hell do you think they are called holy-days? Done, that was easy.

  2. Pi Day rocks. Intangible and cool, as it relates to a date on the calendar.

    How folks celebrate: making / eating pie 😀

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