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Front Page » July 24, 2008 » Holiday focus » Pioneer Day is not alone, But it is a unique celebration
Published 2,197 days ago

Pioneer Day is not alone, But it is a unique celebration


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For those calling offices and many businesses in Utah from out of state today, the answer will not be "Hello, can I help you" but instead, "Please leave a message."

While the rest of the country and the world go on with their normal business on July 24, Utah virtually stops. It is a state holiday that is celebrated like no other state holiday in the country. It is Pioneer Day.

Some people in other places may see this day as special. For instance famous people were born on this day include Jennifer Lopez, Ruth Buzzi, Lynda Carter, Pam Tillis, Barry Bonds, and former Utah Jazz forward Karl Malone. In some circles it is also know as Emilia Earhart Day; named after the famous female aviator who disappeared in 1937 in an around the world flight. This day was named that because in 1897 she was born on July 24.

But for big events on this day, Utah has it all. Many towns throughout the state (and some surrounding ones) have big things going on. And it's all due to the arrival of the Mormon pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847. It is the day that Brigham Young supposedly said "This is the place" or something like that.

Over the years I have heard Pioneer Day called everything from "Brigham's Day" to "The Mormon Holiday." Growing up in Utah as a non-Mormon, I never saw it that way. I just perceived it as a celebration of all the pioneers who came to our state. True the centerpiece has always been the Days of '47 Parade in downtown Salt Lake, but that didn't mean anything to me; it was just a good day to have a great time. It was like an extension of July Fourth, which was always one of my favorites.

As a kid I always thought it was cool to have July 24 be a holiday. My dad usually took the day off (or as much as he could running a dairy farm), the family would all get together, there would be fireworks and we could go to some type of celebration somewhere. And once in a while we would have friends visiting from out of state and they always thought it was cool too.

As an adult I also have always enjoyed it. Most of the places I have worked gave us the day off and I often tied vacation to it so I could take the week as well.

But in recent years I have heard derogatory remarks, and that bothers me. In fact I got into a discussion with someone one day about the fact that this was the only state that had that kind of holiday and that it was a silly one at that. In over 50 years of life I had never heard anyone complain about the fact they got a day off from work, until I heard about July 24.

So I did the research. There are a lot states that have state holidays, many of which are just as "silly" (if there is such a thing), and in some cases, seemingly more so.

But first let's define what a regular state holiday is. I say regular because in most states a governor can declare a day a state holiday for almost any reason from getting rain for the first time in six months to a state day for a sports team that wins a championship.

Regular state holidays have some important things in common. One is that almost all state workers are off of work; schools and colleges close; at least some of the private industry in the state gives workers the day off; often banks and financial institutions shut down and finally, there is generally some type of ceremony or central celebration concerning the holiday.

That defined, let's look at some of these holidays, because I find the people that usually argue with me about Utah's holiday came from places where they had none, so in their minds no one else does. Such is life and opinion.

There are a lot of state holidays honored across the country. Some of these holidays are celebrated in a regional manner too, though not always on the same day. Many states have more than one state holiday. Some have a lot of them.

The south and southwest are the biggest areas for state holidays. Oklahoma leads the nation in the number of state holidays with nine, plus they have a week in November where every day is considered a holiday, called Oklahoma Heritage Week. I doubt that everything shuts down for that week however.

Florida and Texas are tied for second with five days each and Alabama and Florida have four. Mississippi and Kentucky have three each. Three "non-south" states also have three: Massachusetts, Minnesota and Hawaii. Five states have two and 16 states have one, a total which includes the Beehive State.

But the reasons are more important than the numbers. Besides that week in November, Oklahoma celebrates Youth Day, Thomas Jefferson's Birthday, Oklahoma Day (where else would that be celebrated), Bird Day, Senior Citizens Day, Cherokee Strip Day, Indian Day, Oklahoma Historical Day and Will Rogers Day. It would be interesting what quip the famous writer and comic satirist would say about his home state leading the U.S. in government worker days off.

And who knows, maybe now they will have an Oklahoma City unamed basketball team day commemorating the move of the NBA's Seattle Supersonics to OKC earlier this month.

Texas is big on everything, and being second in something always bugs them. That must be especially true in the number of state holidays they have since the leader of the pack is Oklahoma, their traditionally beloved neighbor.

The Lone Star State celebrates Confederate Heroes Day, Texas Independence Day (left over from when they were a "country" of their own), San Jacinto Day, Emancipation Day and Lyndon Johnson's birthday.

Florida, the other biggie celebrates Robert E. Lee's birthday, Susan B. Anthony's birthday, Pascua Florida Day, Confederate Memorial Day and Jeffereson Davis' birthday.

This brings up the regional thing; in fact that only happens in the South and it all pertains to the Civil War. The "confederate states" are about as together on what days they should celebrate things as they were when the fought the conflict.

For instance, Confederate Memorial day is celebrated by six states on three different days separated by two months. Four states celebrate Robert E. Lee's birthday on Jan. 19, his actual birthday, while two decided to make it always a three day weekend by honoring him on the third Monday in January. Virginia, where he was born, decided to be economical and celebrate his birthday along with "Stonewall" Jackson and Martin Luther King Day on the third Monday as well.

Since the third Monday of January is a national holiday they were doubly frugal. Texas, as noted above, calls Jan. 19 Confederate Heroes Day. Jefferson Davis' birthday is noted by only four states; he is obviously is less well thought of than Lee, despite the fact he was the only president the confederacy ever knew.

Alabama and Mississippi celebrate it on the first Monday in June while Kentucky and Louisiana note it on June 3, his actual birthday.

The only other holiday that seems really regional, at least officially, is Patriots Day in Maine and Massachusetts which is celebrated on the third Monday in April.

Massachusetts also has two other celebrations, Evacuation Day and Bunker Hill Day, but even though they are state holidays, they are actually only celebrated in Boston and surrounding Suffolk County.

Really odd holidays include Town Meeting Day in Vermont, Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole Day in Hawaii, Fast Day in New Hampshire, Mecklinburg Independence Day in North Carolina, Defenders Day in Maryland, and Casimar Pulaski's Birthday in Illinois.

Okay, maybe odd is too strong a word, but to think that Utah is strange because of our holiday or the way it is run is ignoring the fact that the rest of the nation is just as strange in it's own way. In my research I found that over three fifths of the states in the union have at least one day they consider a state holiday. So it's more the rule than the exception.

With that fact in mind, perhaps it is the states without some kind of state holiday that are the unusual ones.

About the Days of '47

•Next to the Thanksgiving and New Years parades in other parts of the country, the Days of '47 Parade is the largest parade in the country.

•The entrance of the pioneers into the Salt Lake valley was first commemorated in 1949 with a march by 20 local congregations to Temple Square (or where the Temple was to be built).

•Pioneer Day also used to be known as Covered Wagon Days (1931-46).

•In 1857, the 10th anniversary of the entrance of the Mormons into the Salt Lake Valley a large celebration was held in the mountains east of Salt Lake. It was at that time that the residents learned of the approach of Johnston's Army, which would semi-occupy the area for the federal government in a non-violent way for some time.

•In 1897, the 50th anniversary of the entrance into the valley, the area was celebrating not only that golden anniversary, but also becoming a state (1896) and the completion of the Salt Lake Temple.

•In 1947, a huge bash was held in the state commemorating 100 years of growth. The state issued license plates for vehicles that said "This is the place."

•In 1967 the last remaining original pioneer (Hilda Ericson) died at the age of 108. She was honored that year.

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