The meaning of holidays

We never know what will get people worked up. This week it’s the Fourth of July. The Sparks Nugget is planning its Independence Day fireworks for the third of July.

“The Fourth of July is different, or should be different,” wrote Sparks resident Richard Birdsong in a June 28 letter to the editor of the Reno Gazette-Journal. “Before we get to the point of it becoming more important for the business aspect than it is for the actual celebration of the Declaration of Independence, all Americans should insist on celebrating it on the Fourth.”

The first thing that jumps into our mind is that the Nugget comes one day closer to celebrating Independence Day than those who celebrate the Fourth of July. After all, independence was declared on the second.

“Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved; that measures should be immediately taken for procuring the assistance of foreign powers, and a Confederation be formed to bind the colonies more closely together,” was the language of the actual declaration of independence introduced in Congress by Richard Lee and voted upon July 2. It was approved. That was the day that members of Congress put their lives on the line. If the revolution had failed, they would have known a life similar to the members of Parliament who condemned Charles I to death and executed him. After the royal restoration, they were hunted and many killed, several of them fleeing to North America and hiding in New England.

“This day the Continental Congress declared the United Colonies Free and Independent States,” the Philadelphia Evening Post reported on July 2.

John Adams wrote to Abigail Adams, “The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

Holidays are funny things. They tend to become more important than the reason for which they were originally designated. Before there was a King Day in Nevada, it was a state day of observance, during which school children were taught the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. Now, we can already see the erosion of that holiday as a reason for learning. In a hundred years, will the public have much of an understanding of the holiday?

We once commemorated Armistice Day, celebrating the arrival of peace on Nov. 11 at the end of what was then called the Great War, which we now call World War One. Armistice Day has been changed to Veterans Day. Both are worthy of remembrance, but they hardly mean the same thing. In 1971, the date was moved from Nov. 11 to the fourth Monday of October to create three day weekends. Veterans groups convinced Congress to change it back, a rare instance of the meaning of the day prevailing over its use as a mere day off.