Tuesday, July 8, 2008

#23 Split Personality of Secular Holidays

Independence Day/4th of July has a kind dual identity, as do several other secular holidays I'll mention, that reflects upon the American character, and , I guess, human nature in general. I'm speaking strictly of the non-religious kind, not a true "holy"-day-- all of them having their own kind of built-in schizophrenic issues that can have even global repercussions. But let's save that for a later post.

I was pondering all ofthis while watching the annual fireworks display fill the sky and our living room window (they built the NC Fairgrounds just 3 miles away and at just the right angle for my convenience. Now if I could only get them to muffle the sound). Beautiful. And this is what almost every single one of us associates with this holiday. In fact, if you conducted one of those popular "How stupid are we?" polls among the Great Unwashed, I guarantee that a percentage of our citizens would miss this trick question: "Our Independence Day falls on what date?" (Like the old chestnut, "Does Canada have a 4th of July?"--again reflecting that confusion of day and date.) Or consider this dissonance: I'm gonna watch the fireworks on Independence Day. Doesn't sound right, does it. That's because this holiday maintains a perfect dichotomy between its memorial aspects and the celebration of same. Between commemoration and commission. And so we've afforded it really two different names. No other is quite like that. The true anniversary involving Franklin, Washington, Adams, Jefferson (the latter two dying on July 4th, amazingly, 50 years after the fact), and King George may be in the back of our minds, but it's overshadowed by blockbusters and barbecue. Which is quite OK, and fireworks-displays are surely appropriate historically for the real-war fireworks that followed that Declaration. But we really need to be reminded of that. New Year's Day, on the other hand--pure unashamed celebration. Out of the running. The others have an uneasy duality. Honestly, at this moment, I'm not quite sure who is being commemorated on Presidents Day. Is it ALL of them, or just the Founding-Father luminaries plus Lincoln born around the first two months of the year? But we do get MONDAY OFF!

And I'm afraid this is the principal reason we look forward to the other "seculars," now almost all conveniently embedded in THE LONG WEEKEND. (July 4th got lucky this year.) MLKjr Day (because its new and "political") and Memorial Day (because of its NAME and the ongoing war) are still heavily front-loaded in favor of commemoration, despite their "long-weekend" adulteration. Labor Day actually has an interesting memorial history that I won't bore you with, but for most of us its just a welcome 3-day break nicely bisecting the summer and winter holidays. In fact we think of it more as a weekend than as a "day." Did I miss any? Too late for a curmudgeon alert.

No comments: