Technically, we don’t have national holidays. We have federal holidays which only federal government entities need recognize. Whatever we call them, however, they are a great confused mulch of custom, politics, and the frenzied desire for three-day weekends.
America formally observes ten federal holidays: New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King’s Birthday, Washington’s Birthday (Presidents’ Day), Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.
Since the passage of the “Uniform Monday Holiday Act” in 1971, however, we don’t actually celebrate anyone or anything. It’s all about three-day weekends. A truly “national” holiday should have a direct connection to the nation – our history, our culture, critical individual accomplishments – and be celebrated on the actual day. Now, alas, we just use certain anniversaries as excuses for clearance sales and Mondays off.
National holidays named for individuals should be reserved for those who stand at the pinnacle of achievement for the nation. To your humble correspondent, that means George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Without those two men, the United States of America would not exist.
Washington has a holiday …. sort of. Officially, it’s still called Washington’s Birthday. In practice, however, it is Presidents’ Day, which is a great shame. Lincoln’s Birthday never was a national holiday but has been lumped into Presidents’ Day.
The only other individuals who have national holidays named for them are Martin Luther King and Christopher Columbus. Both are historically significant figures who should be honored though not with national holidays.
(Pardon me momentarily while I dodge the incoming and predictable accusations of racism.)
Think of military decorations. Not everyone who deserves a medal, deserves the Medal of Honor. Receiving a Silver Star still is a high recognition of valor and accomplishment. In this context, then, a national holiday named for an individual is the Medal of Honor. Washington and Lincoln deserve that above all others.
Dr. King has scholarships, foundations, streets, schools, public buildings, monuments, and even a county in Washington State named for him. All are well-deserved and appropriate honors for his leadership of the Civil Rights movement. Christopher Columbus has several cities and the District of Columbia named for him; also well-deserved and appropriate. As a part-Italian Catholic and member of the Knights of Columbus, I honor him too. But discovering some Caribbean islands 300 years before the United States existed is hardly a reason for a U.S. national holiday in his name.
New Year’s Day is about hangovers and football. No one goes to work anyway so it might as well be a holiday.
Regarding veterans – and I’m proud to be one – do we really need two holidays? I understand the difference but Memorial Day and Veterans Day should be combined into a single commemoration.
The Fourth of July is our premier national holiday and still is celebrated on that day though we still get the nearest Monday off.
Labor Day, originally a homage to the working man, now merely marks the end of summer. We should replace it with Constitution Day on September 17 to honor the signing of that remarkable document.
Thanksgiving began with President Lincoln’s call for a national day of prayer and thanksgiving during the Civil War. Part religious, part cultural, part historical, it seems a uniquely appropriate holiday for Americans who have so much to be thankful for.
It would be especially nice if we could celebrate Christmas without diluting it into some meaningless, politically correct winter holiday. The word “holiday” is, after all, derived from “holy day.” Christmas, of all days, reflects that.
So let’s celebrate New Year’s Day, Washington’s Birthday, Lincoln’s Birthday, Independence Day, Veterans Memorial Day, Constitution Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Eight instead of ten and all celebrated on the actual date.
We can’t stop the clearance sales but certainly we should be able to ensure that our national “holy days” mean something rather more uplifting than just another three-day weekend.