Five years ago I wouldn’t have been able to tell you that one of my favorite holidays was Groundhog Day. That is one kooky sentence. Anyway, I’ve been teaching for a while now, but it hasn’t always been French. Our city happens to have a large number of African refugees that have been located here under the care of the International Rescue Committee (great organization…check ’em out). Because many of them speak French, the district asked me to teach ESL at one of our high schools for a couple of years. Tough job? Yes. Lots of kookiness? Double yes. I loved my students. I adored them (most of the time). As often is the case, those kids taught me far more than I ever taught them.
Ok, enough schmaltz. On to the kookiness. One of the things I loved doing in my classroom was celebrating American holidays, no matter how “small.” Groundhog Day? Perfect! As I was patting myself on the back for being such a fabulous teacher, I downloaded the video of the ceremony that had happened earlier in the day, with all its pomp, circumstance, top hats, and a chubby, furry, confused rodent. They would love this. They would praise me for enlightening them to one of the many wonders of American culture. They would forever be changed. They would not get home fast enough to tell their families of yet another life changing nugget of wisdom I’d bestowed upon them.
And so we celebrated. I handed out construction paper top hats to wear. Each student had a little paper Punxsutawney Phil to color and act as their inspiration to write as many adjectives as they could to describe him. We talked, we laughed, and then…they asked. “Miss, why is this day different than the others?” “Well, you see, we ask this little animal, a groundhog…repeat after me…grrrrooouuuunnddd hhhoooogggg….to come up out of the ground each year on this day. As he comes up out of the ground, we look to see if he notices his shadow. If he does, then we know that we will have six more weeks of cold weather (gesturing to our large calendar like a good teacher would). If he does not, we know that spring is on its way.”
“Let’s watch the ceremony that happens each year in the state of Pennsylvania (pointing to the large US map, you know, like a good teacher).” My students dutifully watched the news coverage of a bunch of white guys, all dressed up in top hats, holding a large rodent, proclaiming this and that, and waiting to get a weather report from a large goofy looking animal with big teeth.
And then it dawned on me. I mean, I knew it was a kooky holiday, but some things just really hit home when you are trying to explain your culture to someone else.
“So, Miss, this animal tells the weather?”
“And what is this ‘Inner Circle’?”
“Uh, they are the people who take care of Phil the groundhog. And his wife, Phyllis.”
“And men in fancy suits and hats wait for him to tell us the weather?”
“And you are telling us that you people believe him? This animal that tells the weather?”
“Well, not really, but…um….back to adjectives!”
Next? April Fool’s Day.