Patriotic holidays in the US

The nation's liturgical calendar celebrating our militarized history

by Ken Sehested

There are 14 officially-sanctioned holidays (or commemorative days) in the US annual calendar which, directly or indirectly, commemorate a militarized history of the nation.

        This does not include commemoration of the Confederate cause of the Civil War, or the birthdays of one of the Confederate leaders, in 11 Southern states (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia) and in Pennsylvania, where the state’s Confederate partisans are remembered. In many of these, actual observance is fading or phased out entirely. (For more details, see “Confederate Memorial Day in the United States.”)

        Here's the list.

§ [President Abraham] Lincoln’s Birthday, celebrating our Civil War president (12 February).

§ [President George] Washington’s Birthday (22 February), celebrating the Commanding General of the US Revolutionary War and first US president.

§ Loyalty Day (1 May) originally began as "Americanization Day" in 1921 as a counter to the Communists' 1 May celebration of the Russian Revolution. (“May Day” celebrations actually go back to the pre-Christian era and continues as a spring festival for many countries in the northern hemisphere.) On 1 May 1930, 10,000 VFW members staged a rally at New York's Union Square to promote patriotism. Through a resolution adopted in 1949, 1 May evolved into Loyalty Day. Observances began in 1950 on April 28 and climaxed 1 May when more than five million people across the nation held rallies. In New York City, more than 100,000 people rallied for America. In 1958 Congress enacted Public Law 529 proclaiming Loyalty Day a permanent fixture on the nation's calendar.

§ Armed Forces Day (third Saturday in May).

§ Memorial Day (last Monday in May).

§ Flag Day (14 June). Prior to the Civil War, the US flag was not popularly displayed but “served mostly as a military ensign or a convenient marking of American territory, flown from forts, embassies, and ships, and displayed on special occasions like American Independence day.” [Adam Goodheart (2011). Prologue. 1861: The Civil War Awakening (Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group]

§ Independence Day (4 July), aka Happy Low Explosive Pyrotechnics Display Day, commemorating the Chinese invention of gun power in the 9th century CE. In 2014 Congress passed a law requiring that all US flags displayed by the military be manufactured in the US. Not so with fireworks: 98-99% of what consumers purchase, and 75% of public display pyrotechnic, are imported from China.

§ Patriot Day (11 September), in remembrance of the terrorist attacks of 2001. Established by a joint resolution of Congress, 18 December 2001.

§ Constitution Day (17 September). In 1917, the Sons of the American Revolution formed a committee to promote Constitution Day. A new song, “I Am An American,” was featured at  the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Soon public media picked up on and promoted the theme. On 29 February 1952 Congress moved the "I am an American Day" observation to September 17 and renamed it "Citizenship Day.” Congress changed the name to “Constitution Day” in 2004.

§ National Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Recognition Day, customarily observed on the 3th Friday of September, was established by an act of Congress in 1998.

§ Columbus Day (second Monday in October), marking the start of European conquest of the Americas when gold thief Christopher Columbus, lost at sea, landed in the “new” world, thinking it was India. During the four hundredth anniversary in 1892, teachers, preachers, poets and politicians in the US used Columbus Day rituals to teach ideals of patriotism. These patriotic rituals took themes such as citizenship boundaries, the importance of loyalty to the nation, and celebrating social progress. Several locales in the US have begun substituting celebration of “Indigenous Peoples Day.”

§ National Boss Day (16 October). Just kidding.

§ Veterans Day (11 November).

§ Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day (7 December).

[Runner-up status goes to the annual “war on Christmas” pitting “Merry Christmas” vs. “Happy Holidays” each fall, commencing on “Black Friday” (the day after Thanksgiving’s national day of shopping) culminating in the after Christmas day-of-the-dead-evergreen.]

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