Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Civil Holidays

 Leann posted an item on her blog about Columbus Day, urging Congress to consider changing it to Indigenous Peoples Day.  I'll confess that I think that's not a good idea, and that taking one unobserved civil holiday and converting it into a second, ethnic based one, would probably only serve to create additional unobserved civil holidays.  But it does raise the question in my mind a to what holidays we observe, and which we do not, over time.

 Columbus Day Parade prior to World War One.  I know that some places still have Columbus Day Parades, but not all that many.  It's mostly an unobserved holiday most places.  Apparently this wasn't always the case.

I didn't even take note that it was Columbus Day, although I should have, as I didn't get any mail. That's the kind of holiday it is. Federal offices close, but that's about all that happens, other than some stores trying to take advantage of the marketing opportunities it probably doesn't provide.  Most places, people just ignore Columbus Day.

Presidents Day has gone that way too.  At one time, I think people did stop to observe Washington's Birthday or Lincoln's Birthday, but combining all the Presidential observances into one day didn't do them any favor.  Sure, I might wish to honor Washington, Lincoln, the Roosevelt's, etc., but I'm not too keen on honoring some others.  I'd be hard pressed to raise a glass of milk to Millard Filmore, for example, and I'm not going to toast John F. Kennedy, who was a terrible President in my view (yes, I know that we're not supposed to say that, but he was).  It hardly matters anyhow, as now the day is so diluted that nobody pays any mind.  These days, Presidents Day and Columbus Day, have passed off of everyone's personal observational calendar.

But some days are in, for sure.  Martin Luther King Day seems widely observed with some civil events in most places.  In Wyoming, it's Equality Day as the legislature balked at recognizing a Civil Rights leader when it seemed to them that we'd been honoring civil rights long before that. They were wrong, but at the time I thought that passage might be easier if they made it Washakie-Ross-King Day, in honor of Chief Washakie, Nellie Tayloe Ross, and Martin Luther King.  I still think that would have been nifty.  I note that everyone around here calls the day "Martin Luther King Day", showing that people weren't as worked up, I think, as the legislature apparently was.

Americans also heartily observe Thanksgiving Day, as to Canadians, although the north of the border holiday just occurred.  Christmas and Easter, religious holidays, are also widely observed by everyone.  Veterans Day remains a huge civil holiday in most places, as does Memorial Day, which brings me to my next curious item.

June 6, the anniversary of the Allied landings in Normandy during World War Two, have practically become auxiliary Veterans and Memorial Days.  Both Veterans and Memorial Days actually honor the same people, veterans and more particularly lost veterans, but June 6 has come to be a memorial to World War Two veterans.  November 11 has to hang on as the memorial for World War One veterans, which is how it started off.  December 7 has also taken on that status, and to a certain extent September 11 has now as well, although its officially Patriots Day.  This is interesting in that it shows that honoring veterans remains a huge deal in the United States, to such an extent really that there are two days associated with big events in World War Two that are nearly axillary holidays simply by popular acclimation.

St. Patrick's Day is that way too, although its really degraded over the years.  St. Patrick is the Patron Saint of Ireland, and originally St. Patrick's Day was simply celebrated with a huge celebration wherever there were a lot of Irish expatriates.  Generally local Bishops gave a dispensation for Lenten observances on that day (it's always during Lent) and there were big Irish parties, often with a lot of beer, but there were also quite a few Masses as well.  Now there are still a lot of parties, but generally its an excuse for people to wear green and drink a lot of beer, irrespective of their ancestry.

Cinco de Mayo is approaching the status that St. Patrick's Day had perhaps 30 years ago, being a celebration of all things Hispanic on that day.  It's curious in that it isn't a big day in Mexico itself, even though it commemorates a Mexican battle. The widely made claim that its "Mexican Independence Day" is flatly wrong as that day is September 19.  A big day in strongly Hispanic areas can also be found in Our Lady of Guadalupe's feast day, which  was a big day long before Cinco de Mayo was.

All this is interesting, I think, in that it shows us what people value at any one time.  Columbus Day has gone from being essentially a day in which Italians could point to somebody they were proud of to being largely ignored, or controversial to the extent its observed.  At the same time St. Patrick's Day has become a huge unofficial holiday and Cinco de Mayo is becoming one.  People want to honor veterans so much that we're basically observing four veterans' days.  We have fewer civil holidays than most other people, we don't observe all that we have, but we do observe a few that aren't official.  I wonder what days we would have found being observed a century ago?


LeAnn28 said...

I agree that these holidays, both official and non-official, and how we observe them, or not, tells much about what we value at any given time.

Pat and Marcus said...

I didn't mention July 4, which is undoubtedly our biggest civil holiday. I should have noted that one.

I wonder if there are, or were, any regional holidays? The state has a Wyoming Day, but my guess is that 90% of the state's residents don't know it exits. Surely there must have been big days in ethnic communities at some point which are unique to them, and perhaps still are.