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Nashville, TN Drone Display, 4th of July 2020

“Thinking of holidays”

I have always been fascinated by the way different cultures see “holidays”…. As a historian with a love for philosophy words and their evolution over time are very important to me; they can actually help trace cultural values and history all by themselves.

So, just recently in the U.S. there was the 4th of July Holiday.  Given the recent highlighting of history and historical events, social event, and the Constitution in the U.S., coupled with the current pandemic happening, I felt it necessary to go down this path of philosophizing about holidays. 
Originally that word was actually “holy day” and referred to spiritual or religious days of reverence and celebration; such as the original meaning of Christmas, Hanukah and Ramadan, if you will.  Those days are meant for us to reflect, focus, and celebrate specific ideas and acts – connected to beliefs.   That’s where my brain usually goes when I hear the word holiday. 
Of course, I had realize, when traveling to Great Britain, that the word “holiday” there at changed its meaning in the modern world to mean “vacation” time or time off from work.   That is also the case in other countries, in today’s world. 

Then there is the meaning of the word “holiday” nowadays, especially in the U.S., that means simply “a day off from work” and is used very generally for all sorts of days off; regardless of whether it is religious, political, philosophical, or vacation related.  Even days that were or are designed to commemorate and honor specific events are now considered to be holidays.  There is no distinction at all between the intended purposes of any such day off. More than that, most holidays, regardless of their purpose seem to focus on “special sales.”  I can’t help but notice at least 3 big companies always having their “Special ___ Holiday Sale”… and many people take advantage of them.  Thus, most holidays (with the exception of vacation maybe) have now become completely commercialized and led to more such days being created for the sole purpose of selling stuff.

That’s what gets me – and has always gets me.  It gets me because it’s related to education and being informed.  It gets me because I wonder what our children associate with “Veterans Day” other than a big sale at their favorite store.  Is there any education on what that means?  Honestly, I don’t think so and that hurts my heart.  I used often ask my college students: “What is the difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day?”  The answer was … silence or perplexed views.  

Frederick Douglass Statue

If we don’t know our own days of commemoration and are not able to distinguish them from fun and celebratory events or Holy Days – how can we understand other cultures’ special days or feelings?  How can we honor and respect them?   Ignorance is not necessarily bliss when it leads to miscommunication and possible disagreements. 

In that, the 4th of July is a very complex day of celebrations. Whether it’s the celebration of Independence from Great Britain (who actually aided the colonist and, many historians will point out, saved them from the French, in the French and Indian War that then led to the need to raise taxes in its land – with a very low tax for British citizens living in the colonies vs. those living in the Motherland), whether it’s honoring the founding fathers (where are the mothers?), whether it’s honoring those who fought and died in the War of Independence – there are other views of this event.  Frederick Douglass shared his thoughts in “What to the Slave is the 4th of July” which he shared in July 1852 and it does not connect with a positive, fun celebration ideas that are so popular. 

Chief Black Hawk Statue

Chief Black Hawk, war leader of the Sauk Indians, also spoke on the issue in his farewell speech on July 4th, 1938 at Old Settlers Park in Fort Madison, Iowa. He had been on a mission to reclaim their lands so he could be back at the Mississippi.  He points outs that the land was taken from them and yet, acknowledges defeat in many ways while focusing on forgiveness. Other Native Americans points out the sadness they feel in regards to the 4th of July as they reflect upon all the treaties broken, the land they lost, the loved ones they lost. The Smithsonian gathered information from various nations on how they spend this day.   

Thus, the 4th of July appears to be one of those special days signifying the need to be more educated and informed about the original event and occasion of such “holiday” as well as how to best spend it.  Of course, it is a personal choice, and still: choices based on information tend to be less ignorant and more in line with the purpose of any special day.  It seems high time to be more specific about what we man with “holiday” again and honor those days in alignment with all that happened; more of a commemoration in that sense.  Especially when it comes to the idea in the founding documents of the U.S where present tense is used stating the aim to be “to create a more perfect union” we can see that it’s an ongoing process. Connected with the words “all [hu]mans are created equal” one starting point can be “holidays.”

A broadside of the Declaration of Independence.
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