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Sonn: Rethinking the reason for holidays

BY BARRETT SONN | JULY 07, 2014 5:00 AM

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The Fourth of July is one of America’s favorite holidays. Aside from the whole becoming-a-country thing, it’s one of the few holidays adults have during the summer, and that makes it a perfect day to spend in the sunlight. We marinate chicken and steaks, but we also marinate ourselves as we sit outside and watch parades for half the day. I actually went to a parade for the first time in a decade and found myself learning the valuable lessons of community, patriotism, and profound boredom.

There’s a limit to how many kids you can see on tricycles before your mind wanders. Of course, I’m definitely biased about the whole thing because I find holidays overrated as a whole. Even my 22nd birthday in May was met with nothing more than a shrug. So, I’m cynical.

But is it really necessary to celebrate everything every single year? Only special anniversaries should be celebrated — every decade or so. Before I continue, it’s necessary to provide my patent pending Don’t Be Overly Sensitive Disclaimer: I am not saying holidays aren’t noble in their intent. We should celebrate the achievements of Martin Luther King Jr. and we should celebrate our veterans, parents, and loved ones (or yourself if you spend Valentine’s Day alone listening to Simon & Garfunkel).

However, most of us don’t actually celebrate the principles behind the holidays themselves. Instead, we take joy based on the idea that holidays are really just vacations days from the tedious pattern of school and work. There’s a reason students are outraged on a completely inappropriate scale when certain schools get holidays off and theirs doesn’t. Snow days are yearned for every winter; the only difference between snow days and national holidays is the element of surprise.

And what does it even mean to celebrate a holiday? Valentine’s Day is easy, and it’s clear we should make phone calls on the days dedicated to our moms and dads. But going back to King, what exactly are we supposed to do besides take a day off? Why don’t we do it? I would even argue the holiday is doing more harm to historic events than good because King’s name is probably just as associated with getting a day off as it is with the civil-rights movement.

Clearly, something is wrong. Larger holidays such as the Fourth of July and Christmas are especially misguided souls because people are actually proactive on those days, but for reasons one would call shaky. Since when did barbeques become associated with celebrating freedom? Does it have to do with regulations on controlled fires in public places?

I don’t think there would be a difference if we “celebrated” holidays once a year or once every four years. And by “celebrating,” I mean getting the day off from school or work. It’s just an empty gesture that we all conveniently enjoy because school and work usually suck. Holidays should actually serve a purpose. If we really got our act together, a day such as King Day or Memorial Day could really bring progress to our nation. As it stands right now, our country would basically be unchanged if those two holidays disappeared.

Race relations would still be crummy, and veterans would still be neglected and taken for granted. But the problem isn’t about remembering. We don’t care — we really don’t. It’s just like Joseph Kony a few years ago. We gave him attention for a few weeks, maybe a few months, and then we stopped caring.

Maybe it’s time we stopped this grotesque façade and called holidays what they really are: a break from life.


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