As a kid who grew up in western Pennsylvania, I’m always glad to see February arrive. And I know I’m not alone in loving this short-but-sweet month.
It brings the Super Bowl: Die-hard fans love it, so do casual bandwagon fans, and retailers that sell big TVs and game-day food and drinks might love it most of all. Last year the National Retail Federation estimated that the average American spent nearly $80 celebrating—adding up to a whopping $14.6 billion nationwide. And we spend because we love getting together with our colleagues, families and friends, and most of us enjoy laughing (or groaning) at the latest crop of very expensive advertising spots that air during the game.
Lovebirds cherish falling in love, or being in love, on Valentine’s Day. And restaurants, florists and chocolatiers all adore it. Here’s a fun economic fact: According to Facebook data, Feb. 14 is one of the times each year when people are most likely to change their relationship status on the site. Apparently, lots of people decide to more seriously weigh costs against benefits of current and prospective relationships in mid-February because the holiday forces greater consideration—perhaps in part because of the $208 average we spent in 2022 on our significant others, according to survey data from Lending Tree. It isn’t romantic—at all—but it’s entirely possible some relationships ended last February because some Americans decided a preemptive break-up before Feb. 14 was worth the $208 they got to keep in their pockets.
And people call economics the “dismal science.”
Yet I love February for a different occasion: Groundhog Day. I love this particular holiday simply because I grew up in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania—the legendary “Home of the Groundhog.”
Since 1887, the “Inner Circle”—those people you see in top hats and tails at 7 a.m.—have consulted Punxsutawney Phil to determine whether he saw his shadow the morning of Feb. 2, as the little groundhog/meteorologist emerged from his burrow. As most of us know, if Phil sees his shadow, it portends six more weeks of winter. And if he does not, we’ll have an early spring.
Nowadays the phrase “Groundhog Day” may be more likely to remind people of the 1993 fantasy comedy film starring Bill Murray. Set in Punxsutawney, the hit movie is famous for the daily “déjà vu” experience of its main character, and is estimated to have grossed more than $100 million worldwide. Without giving away any spoilers for those who haven’t seen it, these repeated scenes are so memorable that now people use the expression “Groundhog Day” to refer to any repeated experience that appears to have no end. Especially if the experience isn’t a pleasant one.
Here in Southwest Florida, it can feel like we experience our own version of “Groundhog Day” each year when the snowbirds return and Season is upon us once again. Season can be a headache, and reliving it each winter can feel like Bill Murray’s bad case of déjà vu. The traffic is terrible, it’s hard to get a table in almost any restaurant and even something as generally simple as wheeling a shopping cart around the grocery store is an adventure.
On the other hand, the annual return of Season is a reminder to all of us that its minor inconveniences are well worth the tremendous vitality it brings to the region, both economically and socially. At least in normal times.
Yet the last few years have been anything but “normal” here in Southwest Florida. First, we faced a global pandemic. But snowbirds flocked back to our region in record numbers. And now we are digging out from Ian, which devastated some of our area’s finest jewels: Matlacha, Estero Island, Sanibel … the list goes on. The good news is that the snowbirds have returned. Just like always. Just like Groundhog Day.
What remains less clear is what snowbird season will look like moving forward. While no one knows for sure, I remain confident that Southwest Florida will remain a place where droves of northerners will return, in search of their own early spring. And I am looking forward to the usual.
Victor V. Claar is associate professor of economics in the Lutgert College of Business at Florida Gulf Coast University. He serves as adjunct director of the George Gibbs Center for Economic Prosperity at the James Madison Institute, and chair of the board of the Freedom & Virtue Institute in Fort Myers.