Monday, April 15, 2013

Oh, it’s a jolly holiday in Massachusetts. (No wonder that it’s Massachusetts that we love.)

Today is Patriots’ Day, which is celebrated in Massachusetts and in Maine, probably because Maine used to be part of our fair commonwealth.

Anyway, it’s an all-round wonderful holiday for many reason, including that:

  • It’s quirky and regional.
  • It reminds us of great deeds.
  • Although there’s no guarantee that the weather will be anything other than sucky, it does let us know that spring is just around the corner.
  • It means the Swan Boats are back in the Public Garden.
  • The Boston Marathon is run, and Boston will take on a very cosmopolitan, international city air. Plus, I’ll get to see all the runners walking around with their mylar blankets, looking like baked potatoes.

Patriots’ Day is not our area’s only quirky holiday.

Until recently, Boston city workers got off Evacuation Day (the British left Boston), which conveniently occurred on March 17th, so that the workers could knock off for St. Patrick’s Day without having to be official about it, and Bunker Hill Day. These were unofficially known as “hack holidays” and the city has pretty much done away with them. Which is good, because there’s no reason anyone should get these days off. And which is bad, because it’s one more indicator of the homogenization of local culture, which used to be wicked pissah and is now getting sort of bland.

In any case, I took the occasion to poke around and see what other peculiar holidays different states observe.

In New England, Rhode Island – for whatever reason –celebrates VJ Day (now called Victory Day), while Vermont, quite charmingly, observes Town Meeting Day.

California gets it for diversity, with Caesar Chavez Day and, in Oakland, Korematsu Day, which honors Fred Korematsu, who opposed the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII.

Alaska has Seward Day, when they give thanks to William Seward for saving them from being part of Russia. And Hawaii has King Kamehameha Day.

Somewhat predictably, a number of southern states have holidays commemorating the Confederacy.

Texas gives a nod to Confederate Heroes Day, while Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and South Carolina still observe Confederate Memorial Day. Personally, I think that  - given the somewhat less than glorious associations that surround the Confederacy – this one could maybe be folded in with regular old general-purpose Memorial Day. Alabama also throws in on Jefferson Davis’ birthday, while Georgia – not Virginia – gives a shout-out to Robert E. Lee.

And, remembering the ladies, Susan B. Anthony Day is observed in Florida, West Virginia, and Wisconsin, while Rosa Parks Day is celebrated in Ohio, and Pennsylvania gives Helen Keller a day of her own.

Indiana observes Lincoln’s Birthday – which is February 12th – on the day after Thanksgiving, which makes no conceptual sense, but does provide a nifty four-day weekend.

Illinois quite sensibly celebrates Lincoln’s Birthday on Lincoln’s Birthday. They also have Casimir Pulaski Day.

Hands down, the oddest holiday I came across was Śmigus-Dyngus, which is a big deal, apparently, in Buffalo New York, and in the states of  Indiana, Michigan and North Dakota.

Śmigus-Dyngus (also known as lany poniedziałek, meaning "Wet Monday") is a celebration held on Easter Monday in Poland. It is also observed by Polish diaspora communities, particularly among Polish Americans, who call it Dyngus Day….Traditionally, boys throw water over girls and spank them with pussy willow branches on Easter Monday, and girls do the same to boys on Easter Tuesday. This is accompanied by a number of other rituals, such as making verse declarations and holding door-to-door processions, in some regions involving boys dressed as bears. The origins of the celebration are uncertain, but it may date to pagan times (before 1000 AD); it is described in writing as early as the 15th century. It continues to be observed in central Europe, and also in the United States, where certain patriotic American elements have been added to the traditional Polish ones. (Source: Wikipedia.)

Throwing water on people, flogging them with pussy willow branches, reciting verse, and boys dressed as bears? Move over, Casimir Pulaski, have we got a holiday for you.


Source for holiday info: InfoPlease and Wikipedia.

Here’s how Pink Slip commemorated “the shot heard round the world” in 2011. (Last year I was in Rome, where – for obvious reasons – they don’t celebrate this day of days.)

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