Thursday, December 26, 2019

The American Holiday Calendar

Ever since childhood my brother and I have always been fascinated by calendars. One of the things that always interested us is when the various holidays fall on the calendar. One of the conclusions we have drawn during our discussions on the subject is that American holidays are rather awkwardly scheduled.

Before anything else, I have to point out that one of our conclusions is that there are holidays which most Americans celebrate, even if they are not Federally recognized, and those that are little more than a day off, even if they are Federally recognized. In the first category fall such days as the 4th of July, Halloween, and Thanksgiving. In the latter category fall President's Day, Labour Day and Columbus Day. Outside of an emphasis on the history of the American presidency in school and President's Day sales, I am not sure anyone has ever really celebrated President's Day. I don't recall too many George Washington parties growing up! Now at one time there were Labour Day parades and picnics, all in honour of the American labour movement, but those have long since fallen by the wayside. I am not sure that Columbus Day has ever been really been celebrated in most places. Indeed, given the controversy over Christopher Columbus of late, many want to replace it with Indigenous Peoples Day (which, being part Cherokee, I would much more inclined to celebrate).

Anyway, in our discussions my brother and I determined that the bulk of holidays that people actually celebrate fall during the autumn and winter. In fact, a good number of them fall from October 31 (Halloween) to  December 31 (New Year's Eve). Halloween began as a Christian holiday, but over the centuries became so secularised that even non-Christians celebrate it. And while it is not a Federal holiday, it is one of the biggest holidays of the year. Dia De Muertos falls from November 1 to November 2 and is becoming increasingly popular in the United States. Less than a month later are Veterans Day (November 11) and Thanksgiving, both of which are Federal holidays. Depending upon the year, Thanksgiving can fall only a little over a month to a little under a month before Christmas. While Christmas is a major Christian holiday, it is one that has been so secularised that even atheists observe the day. Here I point have to point out that yet other holidays fall close to Christmas. The earliest the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah can take place is November 28 and the latest is January 6. In most years it falls in December, not far off from Christmas. Kwanzaa takes place from December 25 to January 1. The final holiday of December is New Year's Eve. It is New Year's Day, January 1, that is a Federal holiday rather than New Year's Eve, but most of the holiday's celebration is centred on the night of December 31.

Of course, New Year's Day is not the final holiday of the winter. Martin Luther King Day falls on the third Monday of January, while Valentine's Day falls in February and St. Patrick's Day falls in March. Here I must mention that, for better or worse, none of these days are nearly as big in American popular culture as Halloween, Thanksgiving, or Christmas. Once spring arrives, there is little in the way of major holidays. For Christians there is Easter, which can fall on March 22 at the earliest and April 21 at the latest.The Jewish festival of Pesach or Passover usually falls in April, although it can occur as early as late March.

It is following Easter and Pesach that holidays Americans actually celebrate become a bit spread apart. Memorial Day falls on the last Monday of May, while Independence Day is more often referred to by its date, the 4th of July. After the 4th of July there is not another holiday until the first Monday of September, Labour Day, a day which for many Americans (if not most) is little more than a day off. For Jewish people there are Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kipppur in September, but for most Americans there won't a holiday they actually celebrate following 4th of July until Halloween (most Americans ignoring both Labour Day and Columbus Day).

Of course, here I have to point out that some of the holidays that Americans celebrate won't be celebrated by many Americans, perhaps even most of them. Valentine's Day is only important to couples (which means I will never celebrate Valentine's Day again). Not being Irish, Nigerian, ‎Montserratian, an engineer, or a paralegal, I have never celebrated St. Patrick's Day. Even the most popular holidays, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and so on, won't be celebrated by every single American.

Anyway, what all of this all boils down to is that in the United States autumn and winter have many holidays that people celebrate, while spring has fewer, and summer has fewer still. For someone like me, who absolutely hates summer and could use a pick-me-up during that season, this leaves a lot to be desired. Unfortunately, I don't know that there is any way this could ever be changed. As President's Day, Labour Day, and Columbus Day show, creating holidays through legislation really isn't very effective. It seems to me that most holidays either emerge from tradition or they develop organically. I suppose the best I can hope for is that people decide to start celebrating the traditional holidays of May Day (the spring festival, not International Workers Day) or Midsummer in the United States.

1 comment:

Evil Woman Blues said...

This post sounds a little off beat but I have actually put some thought into the topic over the years. I divide holidays into four categories:
1. Real Holidays. Here we have Xmas, New Years, Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day, and Thanksgiving. You are correct that Labor was once a day of parades and barbecues but has since morphed into an excuse for columnists and economists to bemoan the decline and almost disappearance of American labor unions.
2. Government employee/bank holidays. Here we have MLK day, Good Friday, President’s Day, Columbus Day, and Veteran’s Day.
3. Jewish holidays. Depending on where you live, these have the same status as #2. As society becomes more secular, not even most Jews celebrate these days.
4. Excuse for a day off holidays. Here we see creativity for the lazy man. Any time July 4th falls on a Thursday, take the next day off. Ditto Xmas and New Years. In fact, if Xmas and New Years fall on a Wednesday, the entire two week period becomes an excuse to goof off and take a long liquid lunch. Friday after Thanksgiving falls into this category. Again, depending on where you live, St. Patricks Day is another excuse to tell the boss you ain’t coming in.