Am I the only one who gets just a bit humbugged when I hear someone chirp “Season’s Greetings” or see “Happy Holidays” banners strung across Main Street or Central? Or feels like a dinosaur on learning that “Merry Christmas” generates 110 million Google hits, while “Happy Holidays” scores 296 million?
How come people who have a problem with Christmas have no problem whatsoever taking the holiday – or any other holiday they “object” to?
So, I decided to root around on Wikipedia and the Net to examine our other national holidays for any pernicious religious influence needing elimination from our civic sphere. I found some, but fewer than I expected.
Biggest of all is Sunday. We have 52 of those every year because that’s the Biblical day of rest, according to the hegemonic, patriarchal Christian religion.
Then there’s New Year’s Day, which the Romans started. They dedicated their day to the pagan god Janus (we named January after him). Some Christians celebrate New Year’s as the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ, because Jesus was a Jew and Jewish boys are supposed to get fixed on their eighth day of business. So there’s three “religious” strikes against it – yet for 2012, atheist government employees will still get Monday holiday pay along with their observant co-workers.
Next is Martin Luther King Day. King Day became a holiday thanks in part to a 6-million-signature citizen petition, the biggest ever. Cool, but if King hadn’t been a preacher, he might not have become a hero.
In case you’re wondering, Easter has never been an official federal holiday, as it always falls on Easter Sunday. Although 11 states (not Montana) recognize Good Friday as a state holiday, the federal government does not.
Another suspiciously religious holiday is Columbus Day, which became a legal holiday in a context of late-19th century immigration from southern Europe and an associated rise in anti-Catholic discrimination. Colorado was the first state to recognize Columbus Day in 1906, thanks in large part to the Sons of Italy – thousands of whom were steel mill workers and coal miners for Colorado Fuel and Iron. And it was the Knights of Columbus (the same folks who erected Big Mountain’s Jesus statue) who spearheaded nationalizing the Columbus Day holiday in 1937.
Thanksgiving Day stems from a harvest feast tradition common in, and brought over by settlers from, Europe. Spaniards, Virginians and French all claim the first Thanksgiving feast in the Western Hemisphere. But how the local Wampanoag Indians helped the Pilgrims get their act together at Plymouth is the “best” story. Never mind the Pilgrims were a religious splinter group trying to get away from the Church of England – and here we have a “state establishment?”
On the surface, our other holidays tend to commemorate war or politics (Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Veterans Day) – but they all celebrate capitalism.
Did you know that Labor Day was a capitalist response to the growing global popularity of May Day as a commemoration of the 1886 Haymarket labor riots and killings by – gasp – anarchists, syndicalists and godless Commies? And get this … the bill establishing Labor Day in 1893 passed Congress unanimously during the violent Pullman railway strike and was signed six days after the end of the strike.
In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt bumped Thanksgiving ahead a week, thanks to lobbying from the Retail Dry Goods Association – they wanted to start their Christmas season earlier. But the Commerce Department found that moving up to “Franksgiving Day” didn’t boost sales, so back we went to the fourth Thursday in November.
We have Monday holidays because of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1968, which, according to Veterans Affairs, was intended to “encourage travel, recreational and cultural activities and stimulate greater industrial and commercial production.” But, just as there’s no substitute for the Fourth of July, there’s no substitute for the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month,” so in 1978 Veterans Day returned to where it always belonged.
Some things are worth more than money, and should stay that way. Merry Christmas, everyone.
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