February Cultural Events

Note: These events are recognized in different ways, but everyone still has to go to work or school on these days.

Three dates are marked in February in the United States: Groundhog Day, Valentine’s Day, and Presidents Day. Groundhog Day is a somewhat humorous day, with no serious significance. Valentine’s Day is celebrated widely across the country. Businesses are closed for neither day. Presidents Day is an observation of the birthdays of the nation’s two most respected Presidents: George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Banks and government offices are generally closed on this day; there is no postal service on Presidents Day.

Groundhog Day This day is celebrated on the second day of February. Focusing on a large rodent, the groundhog (also called “gopher” or “woodchuck” ), the day has a pseudo-scientific aspect about it, attempting to predict national weather patterns. The legend says that if a groundhog emerges from his burrow on that date and sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter weather. If he does not see his shadow, there will be an early spring. This tradition is more than 100 years old in the northern United States. 

Many cities have an event where local dignitaries remove a semi-hibernating groundhog from its den and predict––based on the sunniness or shadiness of the day––how long winter will last. The most famous ceremony is in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, with a groundhog named Punxsutawney Phil. Most Americans do not place any belief in the accuracy of this weather prediction (spring comes to most U.S. states sometime in March anyway), but it is fun to talk about. Groundhog Day is the title of a famous 1993 comedy movie (starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell).

“Hey, can you see my shadow?”

“Hey, can you see my shadow?”

Valentine’s Day On the 14th day of February, it is the custom to recognize people in your life who are sweet to you. Spouses and lovers exchange cards, gifts, flowers, chocolates, and other signs of affection. Parents give gifts to their children, and schoolchildren make and decorate cards to give to their parents. Children often give cards to their classmates and also cards or small gifts to their teachers. Red is the color that dominates the day, and most decorations include hearts or flowers. Florists are extremely busy at this time of year, with red roses being the most popular flower. Last-minute shoppers (often forgetful husbands and boyfriends) may not be able to find any suitable flowers to purchase on the 13th or 14th. Similarly, restaurants are typically booked up with romantic dinner reservations on this date. A husband or boyfriend who forgets to give his sweetheart an appropriate gift is often sent to the doghouse.

Unlike in Japan, both males and females exchange Valentine’s cards and gifts in the U.S.

Unlike in Japan, both males and females exchange Valentine’s cards and gifts in the U.S.

In past years, my wife and I have mailed Valentine’s cards to our parents, children, and grandchildren. For breakfast, we have eaten on special red plates, had coffee in red mugs, and given each other romantic or funny cards. Sometimes we go out to restaurants, but some years we stay home and have a quiet home-cooked meal with wine and flowers on the table.

Because the topic of the day is Romance, the New York Times published a number of articles about online dating. We can share a copy with you if you write us.

Other events this month: February has been designated as African American History Month. Educators take efforts to share previously hidden aspects of the contributions of African Americans to the nation’s history and development. Special programs are presented in both community and school settings. The special observation of this month was begun in the 1920s as Negro History Week by historian Carter Woodson. Critics claim that Black History or African American History is really American History and should not be limited to one month per year.

VOCABULARY for E.S.L. Learners
rodent = animal group that includes rats, mice, and squirrels
burrow = animal home that is dug in the ground
dignitaries = famous or important people
hibernating = sleeping through the winter season
florist = person who sells flowers and floral decorations
in the doghouse = in trouble with a sweetheart (due to stupid actions or words)
online dating = the system where single people put pictures and descriptions of themselves on the internet to see who would like to date them

Alan Headbloom

Alan advises Americans how to be global citizens and expats how to fit in to Michigan culture without annoying their native coworkers and clients. He also tweets and blogs at the intersection of language and culture. Over decades, he's traveled, studied, or lived on six continents, putting strange foods into his mouth and emitting strange sounds from it. His use of English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Swedish, Hausa, and Japanese all improve with alcohol use. He gives invited public presentations on culture and unsolicited private advice on English grammar and usage; the latter isn't always appreciated. Visit his website for information on consulting, coaching, or speaking engagements.