A Fresh Look at Holidays

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I have long been a critic of the state’s co-option of holidays to serve governmental purposes, thus negating the messages these holidays originally served. July 4th — designed to celebrate independence from the state — has been refashioned as a holiday for revelling in the state’s favorite activity, war. Television treats us to a seemingly endless supply of John Wayne films, urging us to embrace the contradictory idea that submitting ourselves to increased state power is the way to promote our liberty! It is such twisted thinking that leads those who refuse to examine the content of their minds to bleat about the soldiers who "fight for our freedom." What nonsense. Shall we next be told that Sunset Boulevard hookers are peddling virtue?

Just how far we have contorted our thinking about "independence day" is reflected in most people’s thinking about fireworks. Like private gun-ownership, our personal use of fireworks represents too much power in the hands of individuals. And so, we confine ourselves to the absurdity of having the state celebrate our liberty and independence for us!

Memorial Day is another holiday corrupted by statism. Originally begun as a day for remembering the dead — particularly those who had died in war — it, too, has been twisted into a day for celebrating — not condemning — warfare. Back to the film files for more John Wayne flicks. Like his neocon successors who never heard a gunshot fired in anger, Wayne remains a hero to the statists for having bravely and selflessly defended the back-lot of Republic Pictures during World War II.

The November 11th Armistice Day holiday of my childhood — which celebrated the end of a war — has metamorphosed into Veterans Day, with thousands of war veterans donning their American Legion caps or U.S.S. Missouri baseball caps to praise the war system, rather than its albeit temporary cessation. More John Wayne celluloid makes it to the television screens. In such fictionalized accounts, young and impressionable minds learn the righteousness not only of obedience to authority, but of throwing oneself upon a live hand grenade.

And for what could we be more thankful on that fourth Thursday in November than living in a nation ruled by an all-powerful state that protects us from the savage hordes menacing us from such lands as Grenada, Afghanistan, Libya, Panama, Iraq, or any other enemy-of-the-month selected by establishment rulers? Nor does New Year’s Day go unused by the state, it being the date on which most of the new regulations on our lives take effect, as well as the beginning of a new tax year.

Even Christmas — the day, not that many decades ago, that was virtually synonymous with "peace" — has given rise to Christmas cards depicting flag-draped Santa Clauses, and homes decorated in red, white, and blue lights. And as children unwrap their "G.I. Joe" toys or their warrior-based computer games, the ballad "Onward Christian Soldiers" may be heard on a local radio station.

Even as modernly practiced, there is one nice thing about national holidays: they provide a day off work for government employees. With this thought in mind, I propose a further expansion of such holidays, to the end that all 365 days of the year be taken up in honoring someone, or some event, or some group of people who should be accorded the same recognition as those now favored. I have a few samples to get our thinking started.

When a holiday for Martin Luther King was first being considered, I suggested other renowned blacks as more suitable honorees, Frederick Douglass being my choice. If there was an insistence upon selecting a more recent candidate, I would have preferred Malcolm X, who — particularly near the end of his life — saw the deeper basis of social conflict than the simplistic "black-versus-white" model upon which most of us have settled, and which is becoming a focal point in this year’s presidential campaign. So, indulge my thinking for the purpose of having additional national holidays for Douglass and Malcolm.

In this age of hyphenated ego-boundary identities, religious, ethnic, and nationality groups could take up the cause for honoring their specific associations. The Christians and Jews already have their holidays (a word which, itself, stems from "holy days") recognized. But what about Muslims, Buddhists, Shintoists, Hindus, and the many other religions that are not recognized with a holiday? At a time when politicians like to talk about diversity, why are the members of these religions left out? And what about atheists? Shouldn’t Madalyn Murray O’Hair’s birthday also be recognized, as a confirmation of the non-establishment clause of the 1st Amendment?

Just imagine what could be done to shrink governmental behavior by recognizing nationality groups for a national holiday? Lithuanian Day, Cinco de Mayo, Norwegian Day, Kenya Day, Thailand Day, . . . on and on to encompass all nationalities as well as sub-nationalities (e.g., not just Iraq Day, but Shiite Day, Sunni Day, etc.). Yugoslavia — which has since decentralized into five separate nations — and Czechoslovakia — which has fragmented into the Czech Republic and Slovakia — could multiply the numbers, just as the collapse of the Soviet Union has breathed new life into a great many independent nations.

And why have we limited America’s presidential nominees to a single President’s Day? How about a day to honor each of them? My favorite — and the only one I would choose to honor — would be William Henry Harrison, a man who caught pneumonia on inauguration day and died a month later! Grover Cleveland would probably be entitled to two such days, his having served two non-consecutive terms.

You get the picture. Occupations, genders, lifestyles, belief systems, etc., etc., could each be recognized. Instead of a generic "Labor Day," what about a day recognizing farmers, who produce the food that sustains us? Furthermore, what about a day to honor those whose work is far more central to our well-being than rock stars and athletes, namely, those who dispose of the entropic wastes of our world (e.g., garbage and trash collectors, undertakers, and plumbers)? Such people — along with farmers — do the work many of us despise and yet, without their efforts, we would be inundated in waste (have you ever lived in New York City during a garbage-collectors’ strike?).

Let us have a paid holiday for everyone, in honor of all these e pluribus unum groups we like to imagine have created America. If all 365 days could be filled up, this would mean that all government employees would continue to get paid: they just wouldn’t show up for work to do anything. The benefit of paying such people to stay out of our way would be a wonderful first step toward a total dismantling of the state. We would still be stuck with paying their salaries but, on the other hand, we would have put an end to their ceaseless meddling. Enough of these people might become so bored with having no work to perform, they might quit their government jobs and go into the marketplace with the rest of us! To paraphrase an old Vietnam War saying, "what if they created a government, but nobody came?"

Butler Shaffer [send him e-mail] teaches at the Southwestern University School of Law. He is the author of Calculated Chaos: Institutional Threats to Peace and Human Survival.

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