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Forgotten Holidays: Eight Historic or Local Celebrations that Illuminate the Past

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As the Boston Marathon approaches, and with it memories of last year’s horrific bombings, you may see references to the holiday “Patriots’ Day” which coincides with Marathon Monday. If you’ve ever wondered what Patriots’ Day was, here’s a rundown on it and a number of other local, forgotten, or obscure American holidays that serve, at least, to enliven our sense of history.

boston-marathon1. Patriots’ Day: April 19 marks the anniversary of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the opening salvos of the American Revolution. The holiday is celebrated in Massachusetts, in Maine (formerly part of Massachusetts), and – something I didn’t know until I researched it for this article – Wisconsin. The New England states now celebrate on the third Monday in April rather than April 19 itself. Nowadays when the rest of the country hears about Patriots’ Day it’s usually in the context of the Boston Marathon.

2. Pinkster: Another New York State holiday was this spring festival, held in late May or early June. Pinkster gets its name from the Dutch word for Pentecost, but, although the Dutch brought the holiday to the New World in the 17th century, it evolved into a celebration observed mostly by slaves and free blacks. Philipsburg Manor, a historic site in the Hudson Valley town of Sleepy Hollow, is among the institutions that keep the holiday alive to this day with an annual Pinkster festival.

May Day celebrations of International Workers' Day were partly inspired by the 1886 Haymarket riot in Chicago

May Day celebrations of International Workers’ Day were partly inspired by the 1886 Haymarket riot in Chicago

3. Arbor Day: This celebration of trees began in Spain and has spread around the world. It was established in the United States in 1872, given a boost in 1907 when that great environmentalist President Theodore Roosevelt issued an “Arbor Day Proclamation to the School Children of the United States.” Observed in the U.S. on the last Friday in April, it is a civic holiday in Nebraska

4. May Day: Traditionally a spring festival held on May 1, May Day in the United States and many other countries became known as International Workers’ Day, a labor movement celebration associated with the socialist and communist movements. Not surprisingly, at the onset of the Cold War it lost most of its popularity in the U.S. May Day remains in the public consciousness, however. In 2012 the Occupy movement called for a general strike on May Day.

5. Flag Day: Flag Day in the United States commemorates the adoption of the nation’s flag on June 14, 1777. Established as National Flag Day by Congress in 1949, it’s not an official federal holiday, but Pennsylvania celebrates it as a state holiday, and a number of towns and cities use it as a fine excuse for a parade.

6. Statehood Day: The third Friday in August celebrates Hawaii’s admission to the United States as a state on August 21, 1959. Government workers get the day off, but many residents ignore the occasion, and for some native islanders who resent the overthrow of the old Hawaiian Kingdom it’s a controversial anniversary.

Washington Entering New York. Percy Moran, private collection. From a Fraunces Tavern Museum catalog.

Washington Entering New York. Percy Moran, private collection. From a Fraunces Tavern Museum catalog.

7. Evacuation Day: New York used to celebrate Evacuation Day every November 25. That’s the date in 1783 when the British occupying forces withdrew from New York City at the end of the Revolutionary War. Evacuation Day faded from prominence when Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the national day of Thanksgiving, which falls at almost the same time. Evacuation Day was further obscured during World War One when the United States’ military ties with England became much more important than commemorating a war between the two countries. The Sons of the Revolution in the State of New York still mark Evacuation Day every year.

8. Boxing Day: Little-known in the U.S., Boxing Day (usually the day after Christmas) is a bank holiday in the British Commonwealth nations. Though a secular holiday, it probably got its name from boxes used for church contributions or for gifts given to servants on that day. Boxing Day 2014 will be the 10th anniversary of the terrible earthquake and tsunami that took so many thousands of lives in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and other nations – sometimes referred to as the Boxing Day tsunami.

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About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is an Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Culture, where he reviews NYC theater; he also covers interesting music releases. He writes the blog Park Odyssey, for which he is visiting and blogging every park in New York City—over a thousand of them. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. By night he's a working musician: lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado, a member of other bands as well, and a sideman.
  • Dr Joseph S Maresca

    The media in the United States discusses Patriot’s Day, Flag Day, Arbor Day, May Day and Boxing Day with some regularity.Some calendars list these holidays along with the federal holidays that most workers get.

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