Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Why I Prefer Fourth of July Over Independence Day

When I was a kid, some of our holidays were celebrated on different dates.  And one has been eliminated.  For example, Memorial Day used to be on May 30.  And then was moved to the last Monday of May.  While I can't find any particular meaning of the May 30 date, there are some who feel moving it to Monday to make a long weekend has diluted the significance of the holiday.

A US Memorial Day website says:
Many feel that when Congress made the day into a three-day weekend in with the National Holiday Act of 1971, it made it all the easier for people to be distracted from the spirit and meaning of the day. As the VFW stated in its 2002 Memorial Day address: "Changing the date merely to create three-day weekends has undermined the very meaning of the day. No doubt, this has contributed greatly to the general public's nonchalant observance of Memorial Day."

Veterans' Day was observed on November 11, a day with historical significance.  It was the day of the armistice in World War I.  But it too was moved to Monday.  (And then changed back.)  From the US State Department's Bureau of International Information Programs:
Veterans Day (November 11)
The Veterans Day holiday is derived from Armistice Day, commemorating the end of the First World War on November 11, 1918. Congress proclaimed a federal holiday in 1938, and in 1954 changed the holiday’s name to Veterans Day in recognition of those who served during the Second World War and the Korean conflict. Today it recognizes all members of the armed forces, living and dead, who served during times of peace or war. (Memorial Day, by contrast, honors those who gave their lives.) While Veterans Day was among the holidays moved to Mondays beginning in 1971, Congress in 1978 restored the holiday to its original November 11 date. Among the annual ceremonies is one at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington.
We used to have a holiday on February 12 to celebrate Lincoln's Birthday and another one on February 22 to celebrate George Washington's birthday.  But a three day weekend, again is better.  I had thought they were combined to make Presidents' Day, but it turns out the official national holiday is Washington's Birthday celebrated on the third Monday of February. (It can never actually be on his birthday as some point out because the latest the third Monday in February can be is February 21.) 

I'm sorry, but for me, a birthday should be on the actual birthday.
It turns out that Lincoln's Birthday was never a national holiday.  It was, though, an official holiday in many states.  The LA Times has a 2012 story which discusses this and the 1968 law (it went into effect in 1971) which moved many holidays to Mondays.
The legislation did not please all. According to a United Press International report from 1968, Rep. James A. Haley (D-Fla.) called it “one of the most ridiculous bills ever brought before Congress.”
In an editorial, the Washington Post harrumphed: “Probably there is something to be said for the addition of a Monday holiday occasionally to the Saturday-Sunday weekend. But why should history be distorted in the process?”
A search of Los Angeles Times archives turned up a story from January 1968 by pollster Louis Harris, who wrote that the Harris Survey found that Americans opposed the three-day holiday bill 64% to 31%. (The brief story did not say how many people were polled.)
Harris said the survey showed that federal holidays, including Memorial Day, Veterans Day and Washington’s Birthday, “all have special meaning in their own right and are not looked upon as merely ‘another day off.’”
Harris predicted that with all the other issues roiling the country in the turbulent '60s — the Vietnam War, racial strife, cultural change — Congress would not risk messing with the holidays. Well, Congress risked it.
These days some observers of American culture say that the law did indeed transform days packed with meaning into days to shop, barbecue or watch "Twilight Zone" marathons on cable.   [emphasis added]
 I  too worry about the special meaning of holidays and the dates they are on.  That's why I think it is important that we think of today's holiday as the Fourth of July rather than Independence Day.  It's the day the Declaration of Independence was approved by the Continental Congress. 

It just seems to me it would be much harder to move the 'Fourth of July' to the sixth or third or fifth of July than it would be to change 'Independence Day' to make it fall on a Monday.  But today's Congress just might not see any problem celebrating the fourth on the fifth.

1 comment:

  1. I prefer to call this date the "Interdependence Day" as a reminder to look beyond national borders at what the population explosion and industrial globalization are doing to our planet.

    But that's just me coming to you fromthediagonal


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