Groundhog Day has its roots deep in the Animal tradition of weather prognostication. The Park’s celebration of the prediction of the Park Official Prognosticator of Spring (POPS) attracts tens of thousands of Animals annually, making it one of our most important occasions.
Today, The Mammalian Daily speaks to actress Millicent Hayberry about her recollections of Groundhog Days past and her feelings about future celebrations. This interview was conducted at the end of November 2013, just before Millicent Hayberry went into hibernation.
TMD: Millicent, how important was, or is, Groundhog Day to you and your family?
MH: Groundhog Day has always been a special event in my family. It’s always had a special meaning to us.
We’re hibernators, of course, but we’ve always made a point of getting up and out on the second day of February to greet the celebrants and to hear the Groundhog’s prediction. I can’t recall a year that we didn’t do so and I can’t imagine a year that I wouldn’t do so.
TMD: How is Groundhog Day different now? Or, is it?
MH: In some ways, it’s tremendously different, in the way that we celebrate it, although it still keeps to its basic function and idea, which is to predict the future and to celebrate our survival.
In the old days, there wasn’t nearly as much fuss about the day as there is, today. Now, almost all of us hibernators decorate our burrows before we settle in. My next-door neighbour hangs ribbons and flags outside his burrow. Every year, I choose a different colour to decorate with and then I add splashes of that colour on my door, on the floor of my burrow, even on my bedding. When I finally settle down for a good Winter’s sleep, I drift off while thinking about all the delectable food that they’ll have ready for us on Groundhog Day. And that is one of the differences.
TMD: How so?
MH: When I first started attending the celebrations, there was no fancy food and there were no food tables. We had what they called a “food exchange.” Everybody brought something they’d made and they shared it with the others. It was wonderful. And enlightening. And it was a way of getting to know about your neighbours and about other species. There’s nothing like food to bring Animals together. Or to rip them apart, of course. But the wonderful thing, in those first years of zoocracy, was that we were really trying to get to know each other and to make zoocracy work. We had a lot invested in it.
TMD: Do you miss the celebrations of those bygone days?
MH: Do I miss them? Sometimes, I must say, I miss the simplicity of them. Groundhog Day was a small celebration, then. There weren’t such large numbers of Animals attending in those days. You can’t have that kind of simplicity with so many Animals in attendance. But, these days, members of all species attend the celebration and I think that’s a wonderful thing. And, so, Groundhog Day has become one of the high points in The Park’s social calendar and I wouldn’t trade that for all the simplicity in the world.
TMD: Getting back to food for a minute, do you feel we’ve lost something by having the event catered and not providing the food ourselves?
I do not. We are so fortunate in The Park to have such an abundance of comestibles, even with a relatively short growing season. And this fantastically large celebration gives our many great chefs the chance to showcase their skills. It’s a wonderful opportunity for everybody! And, I have to say, that nutritious and innovative cuisine they serve fuels my dreams throughout hibernation.
TMD: When you were young, how did you prepare for hibernation?
MH: When I was a young Chipmunk, hibernation preparation was the most exciting time of the year. Now, it’s Groundhog Day that’s become the focus, but preparing for hibernation is still exciting and I still think about those early years with great joy.
Around the middle of October, my littermates and I would begin our daily food-gathering excursions with Mother. We’d hunt for acorns and nuts and seeds and any other delicious food we could find that would fit in the food storage chambers of our burrows. We’d gather everything up in a big basket, which Mom would carry for us. Every night, when we got home, Mom would divvy up the supplies and we’d scurry off to our own burrows to fill the storage chambers. What fun it was! There were five of us and we were very competitive with each other. Each one of us wanted to have the fullest chamber. Mom knew that desire would motivate us, so she never discouraged it. But, after the food gathering was over, she made sure we all had the same amount of food in our burrows.
TMD: Do your litter mates still live in The Park? Will they be attending the festivities this year?
MH: Three of my litter mates live in The Park. One moved east, but she visits regularly. The four of us here will, indeed, be attending as a group this year. And I look forward to seeing Mammalian Daily reporters there, too.
TMD: And we look forward to celebrating with you and your family, Millicent. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us.
MH: It was my pleasure.