With the first week of class now a whirlwind of the past, the new students have just begun to taste the rich traditions of the University of Dallas, from TGIT to their first Lit Trad classes. Already, however, there are quiet questions in the backs of new students’ minds about UD’s famous celebration.
On the 50th anniversary of our great holiday, Groundhog Day, I was a mere freshman.
It was a glorious day. The rugby team defeated cross-town rival Southern Methodist University, but not without the help of Anthony Wagner, who suffered multiple concussions and a cut which left a beautiful ribbon of blood sputtering from his temple. Even though he was a resident assistant, I felt that I could still support him and cheer him on because he was one of the few who never wrote me up.
More importantly, the Party in the Park was amazing. It wasn’t too muddy, I did not have to wait in line for hours for a hayride, and a senior told me that, in the spirit of Groundhog, I should let her know if I wanted any beer.
Toward the end of the night, the band Scythian came on stage and whipped the crowd into a frenzy with their wild, Irish/folk/punk/rock music which seemed to bring the spirit of Groundhog full circle.
In subsequent years, I have had a great time at Groundhog, but never felt the full Groundhog spirit I experienced that first, cold February evening.
Let us examine, then, what the spirit of Groundhog is.
We have all heard the story in one form or another of the advent of Groundhog, when brave students started a tradition of a random holiday for want of something to do, and frankly, as an excuse to drink. And so, I posit, the spirit of Groundhog is part pure creativity, part tradition and part alcohol.
Groundhog is, in part, a celebration of beer culture. At the University of Dallas, we do not claim to partake in the drugs-and-drinking hookup scene which runs rampant in American universities. We drink in social settings, celebrating, perhaps subconsciously, our Catholic forefathers who came to the United States in search of a better life, who brought with them the traditions of Irish and English pubs, of good Italian wine shared over pasta, of vodka used to keep warm in the harsh winters of Eastern Europe.
Scythian too, is part creativity, part tradition and part alcohol. Many of their songs are inspired by Ireland, a country where Catholic tradition is part of the cultural identity, where pubs have become a place to preserve community and lively music tradition, inspired in part by the harsh anti-Catholic rule of England. But Scythian is inspired not just by Ireland, just as the entire student population cannot claim Irish heritage. Scythian performs their own, creative songs, as well as music inspired by English folk music, sea shanties, Scottish mourning ballads, ancient Ukrainian music, Romani songs, Americana, and more. This music sums up what the students at UD are celebrating when they dance in the mud every February.
In addition, rumor has it that the father of two of Scythian’s members was once a University of Dallas professor. This would make the band, which has played at UD several times before, practically members of the UD community. Other Groundhog bands are not necessarily inadequate — I certainly have fond memories of dancing in the rain to A Hard Day’s Night, the Beatles cover band from last year’s Groundhog celebration. But unless a band embodies creativity, tradition and the reasonable consumption of alcohol, they cannot embody the true Groundhog Spirit.