Old Phil Propagated A Good Old Hoax

It began as all things begin n a long period of boredom with nothing exciting to do. Whoever said, "Idle hands are the devil's workshop," knew something of what they were speaking.

As the story was told to me, it went something like this: It was toward the end of January, a long cold January at that. A group of groundhogs who were supposed to be hibernating were afflicted with a bad case of insomnia.

You know how it is. It has happened to you many times, I am sure. You are supposed to be asleep but sleep is the furthest thing from your eyeballs at the time. Because of the lack of sleep, reality becomes a fading commodity.

These bored groundhogs had tried everything to cure their insomnia but nothing seemed to work. Finally, an old groundhog who had been quiet up to this time loudly cleared his throat and gained the attention of the others.

"Friends," he quietly began, "I've been thinking about something for a very long time. Perhaps now is the time to put this plan into action."

Because nothing else seemed to capture the attention of the others, the old groundhog was given absolute attention. After all, what did they have to lose? There would be about six more weeks before spring and they had to stay underground all this time.

"My idea goes something like this," the gruff old groundhog growled. There seems to be a sense of bitter sarcasm in his voice. "Let us put together a hoax on those humans who live above ground. They think they're better than anybody, so let's show them how superior we are."

Everybody knew the old groundhog, called Phil by everybody, did not particularly like or respect those creatures walking on top of the ground. "What's your idea?" everybody clamored.

Cautiously, old Phil examined his audience to make sure he had their complete confidence. "What we do is this, we tell those humans that whenever a groundhog sees his shadow it will mean six more weeks of winter."

The pack of groundhogs exploded in laughter. When the laughter subsided, a young pup spoke up through tears of laughter, "Nobody is that dumb. That's impossible to get anybody to believe anything so stupid."

For the next 10 minutes, the room was filled with uncontrollable laughter. Old Phil leaned back and enjoyed the moment. He fully expected this kind of reaction. From his experience, he knew it was highly improbable that any groundhog would fall for anything as silly as this.

Finally, as the laughter subsided, another groundhog queried old Phil. "How do you propose to do such a thing?"

"Well," old Phil began, "I'm sure that if we are bored down here, those above us are bored, as well. It's been a long, cold winter with nothing to do between Christmas and Easter. These humans above us need something to do to break the monotony."

The groundhogs got quiet and thoughtfully nodded in agreement with wise old Phil's idea. The more they thought about it the more it began to make sense to them.

"All we have to do," Phil explained, "is to tell these humans that on a particular day of the year if a groundhog emerges from his winter's hole and happens to see his shadow it will be a sign of six more weeks of winter."

A ripple of snickering flowed through the crowd of groundhogs but this time it was more of a conniving snicker. "But what day should we pick?" several of them chimed in.

"Well, it has to be sometime between Christmas and Easter."

The crowd of groundhogs grew quiet as each one went over the calendar in his mind. After all, they realized how important calendars were to the humans who walked on the ground above.

"It has to be a day that's not close to any other human holiday," old Phil suggested.

After several suggestions were bantered about the room, someone recommended they vote on a day. Paper ballots were prepared and passed around to everyone with instructions to make only one choice. When the ballots were collected and counted the winning date was Feb. 2.

When the date was announced the room exploded with cheers and clapping. The first part of their hoax was firmly established. A sense of excitement ran through the crowd of groundhogs assuring that sleep would not visit them that night.

It is not quite clear how old Phil communicated this to the humans above. This part of the story is a closely kept secret. After all, groundhogs have their secrets as well as anybody else. All he would say was, "It was the easiest part of our plan."

And so began one of the great rituals in the human calendar. Wise old Phil named it Groundhog Day. The name has stuck to this very day.

None of the groundhogs interviewed could believe their hoax would last so long, but all of them are delighted over the unprecedented success. This is why on Feb. 3 the underground world echoes with hardy snickering and sometimes uproarious laughter.

Thankfully, not everything is powered by superstition, fables or downright hoaxes. The apostle Paul warned against this. "But refuse profane and old wives' fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness." (1 Timothy 4:7 KJV.)

Following Christ is not a hoax but a holy discipline that leads to fulfillment and joy unspeakable and full of glory.

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