Union Day or Playboy Day?

It’s interesting to see how other countries arrange their holidays. Yesterday was Human Rights Day here in South Africa, a public holiday in which most people get a day off and spend it outdoors at a barbecue, presumably in honor of human rights. The holiday is an outgrowth of the fall of apartheid in the early 1990s and a symbol of the new South Africa’s commitment to basic democratic principles. Similarly, South Africa’s Freedom Day comes on April 27th and celebrates the first democratic elections after apartheid.

Looking at foreign holidays can remind us that our current US federal holidays were deliberately chosen and scheduled according to our own domestic political concerns at some point in the past. For instance, most of the world celebrates International Women’s Day on March 8th each year, but we don’t in the US because the holiday began in the Soviet Union and the eastern bloc. Similarly, we don’t celebrate International Workers’ Day on May 1 like the rest of the world, because that holiday (though gaining its inspiration from the US) was seen as a communist holiday. Our Labor Day instead draws on Canadian labor rights history.

Recognizing that US federal holidays are political creations, it’s worth asking ourselves, Do our current holidays make sense? Should we eliminate some, create others, or re-schedule them?

In what may become a multi-part series, I’m trying to answer some of those questions. Today’s installment looks at our holiday schedule, regardless of the content of those holidays. I created the chart below according to the list of US federal holidays in 2010 available here. Think of the chart as the face of a clock. We begin with New Years Day at the top and progress clockwise around the calendar year, finishing with Christmas Day. The numbers next to each holiday represent the percent of the year remaining until the next federal holiday. Check it out (click to enlarge):

US public holidays, with % of year until next

The chart clearly shows that our current US federal holidays are very tightly bunched between Veterans’ Day (usually Nov. 11) and MLK Jr. Day (the third Monday of January), with fully half of all US federal holidays falling within this ~2 month time span. That leaves a holiday drought for the rest of the year starting on Presidents’ Day (the third Monday in February). In fact, it takes almost a third of a year before the next federal holiday (Memorial Day). That’s three times longer than the average interval between holidays.

Call me crazy, but we need another holiday to break up the tedium that is March, April, and May. Those months usually bring some of the best weather all year in the US, but there is no federal holiday we can use to make a long weekend and really enjoy it.

The midpoint between Presidents’ Day and Memorial Day, and thus the logic date for a new federal holiday, is about April 9th. Looking back at history, that’s already Appomattox Day, celebrating the end of the Civil War with Gen. Lee’s surrender to Gen. (and future president) Grant at Appomattox Courthouse. As a big believer in our country and in human freedom, I think having a holiday celebrating the Union’s victory would be fitting … but I just don’t think conservative dead-enders in certain Dixieland congressional districts would ever allow it. So that leaves us with the other thing that happened on April 9th — Hugh Hefner’s birthday.

Whichever way you want to look at it, I think it’s clear that we need a Springtime US federal holiday. And now that we’re done haggling over health care, maybe Congress can get down to the business of choosing between Union Day and Playboy Day. That might even be a congressional debate all Americans can get behind.

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This is a group blog. JSC5 currently writes from the US. JSC7 writes from behind the Great Firewall of China.

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