I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving. Now you’ll have to wait until Martin Luther King Jr. Day to celebrate the next American holiday.
There’s a segment of the American population that wants everything in America to be “America for Americans” — no foreign languages, no foreign holidays, nothing from other cultures. As usual, when these ignorant people demand these things, they haven’t thought it through. We’ll see which holidays are actually American and which we have borrowed from foreign cultures. If we have to outlaw all the foreign-born holidays, it would be good to know what they are.
Thanksgiving was the original American holiday, first celebrated in 1565 when Spanish settlers landed at present-day St. Augustine in Florida and held a Thanksgiving service and feast. The Thanksgiving the Pilgrims celebrated in 1621 is the template for our present-day celebration; the roots of Thanksgiving run deep in our national consciousness. It is a true American holiday.
The next true American holiday was Independence Day, celebrating the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. John Adams, our second president, wrote to his wife Abigail that “It ought to be celebrated by pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations...” I think he would be happy to see we are doing this.
In 1879, Congress created a federal holiday to honor President George Washington, on Washington’s birthday, Feb. 22. In 1968, Washington’s birthday was combined with Abraham Lincoln’s, and this holiday became known as President’s Day. Again, uniquely American.
After the Civil War, John Logan, a Union general, issued a proclamation that Decoration Day, when people decorated the graves of fallen soldiers, should be celebrated every year on May 30. Decoration Day gradually became known as Memorial Day; this became the official name in 1967. This holiday honors those who died fighting for our freedoms.
In 1894, President Grover Cleveland proclaimed a special day, Labor Day, to honor the labor movement. He chose the first Monday in September. Sadly, many Americans have forgotten what the labor movement brought us: the 40-hour work week, the end of child labor, safe working conditions, paid overtime, paid sick leave, paid vacation, etc. Now Labor Day, although truly American, usually just means the end of summer.
Two other American holidays are Columbus Day, celebrating the man who encountered the Americas and took the news back to Europe, and Martin Luther King Jr. Day, celebrating the American who brought rights to so many people.
Veterans Day is kind of a mixed holiday. It began as Armistice Day, a day to remember all those who served in World War I, from many countries. In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the first Armistice Day. In 1945, the celebration was expanded to remember veterans of all American wars, and became known as Veterans Day. It is still celebrated on Nov. 11.
You may have noticed a few holidays are missing. Christmas began in the Middle East. The observance of Christ’s birth spread as Christianity spread, but it was never the focal point of Christian worship. In fact, Christmas observances were illegal in England and parts of America for many years. Easter also began in the Middle East. I personally believe that Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter commemorate the three most important events in human history. I also realize that these happened before the U.S. even existed, so they are clearly not American.
St. Patrick’s Day is an extremely popular holiday, but, you guessed it, it’s Irish, not American. Valentine’s Day isn’t either. These holidays are far older than America, so no more green beer or cards and candy, folks.
Halloween would have to be scrapped too, as it is based both on ancient Celtic customs and a Christian observance. No more trick or treat. Sorry, kids.
Each state could still celebrate their admission day, so we would have Nevada Day, but we would have to eliminate all the Basque celebrations so popular in our state.
Christmas, Hanukkah, Ramadan, etc., could be celebrated by their respective religious groups, but there would be no national celebration of any of these, since their roots are all in other cultures. Ironically, the people who want no foreign-born holidays are often the same people who bemoan the so-called War on Christmas. Personal prejudice combines with ignorance to create a self-contradictory belief.
So as you prepare to celebrate Christmas, a holiday I love, just remember — if the “America only” crowd gets its way, Christmas in America will be no more.
Jeanette Strong, whose column appears every other week, is a Nevada Press Association award-winning columnist. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.