The United States is a great country, but its government has done some terrible, terrible things: killed native people, denied women the right to vote, and, of course, treated human beings as property.
While the calendar is chock full of holidays commemorating such historic American themes as independence (July 4), having an executive branch (Presidents’ Day), and liking trees (Arbor Day), we don’t have a national holiday dedicated to the abolition of slavery, which was arguably as big a step as declaring independence in the history of the United States becoming the leader of the FREE (get it?) world.
And no, Martin Luther King Day doesn’t count. One holiday dedicated to a civil rights leader does not automatically count as a day celebrating America’s great leap forward in at least saying it would treat all people, regardless of skin color, equally in the eyes of the law.
The closest we come is June 19th, better known – though not better enough, I’d argue – as JUNETEENTH.
Though recognized in varying degrees by as many as 41 states, Hallmark doesn’t sell a card for Juneteenth, so you might be forgiven for thinking it doesn’t live up to the card-worthy standards of such Hallmark favorites as Groundhog Day, Sweetest Day, and, of course, Tax Day. (Because who doesn’t want to send that special someone a card on April 15th to remind them they’re in your thoughts… and that they probably owe Uncle Sam some cash?)
Never heard of Juneteenth? Odds are you’re not from Texas, which is basically the epicenter of Juneteenth observances. The state was the site of the event that started it all when, in June of 1865, Union General Gordon Granger and his soldiers took control of the Texas city of Galveston and announced to the slaves held there that they were, in fact, free men and women, and had been declared so by the Emancipation Proclamation, which took effect nearly two-and-a-half-years earlier.
That’s right, two and a half years. Remember that the next time you complain that your email refreshes too slowly on your smartphone. 4G, indeed.
So why isn’t Juneteenth more popular?
Maybe it’s competition from the two weeks-later “Independence Day.” Some scholars (aka Wikipedia) suggest that, as the new citizens became more assimilated into post-slavery society, they chose to use the Fourth of July as a general celebration of independence rather than dwelling on slavery with a separate holiday.
And, commemoration-wise, both holidays feature cookouts and parades, but where Independence Day has fireworks displays, Juneteenth goes with public readings of the Emancipation Proclamation. And while government edicts may be historically relevant, they’re nowhere near as sexy as the pretty colors and risk of personal disfigurement offered by M-80s and their friends.
There are two other reasons that Juneteenth doesn’t make it to the big stage.
For one, the name manages to be both weird AND generic, as it doesn’t spell out what it’s celebrating: we don’t call Christmas “Decemtyfifth” or Independence Day “Julorth.”
“Emancipation Day,” which is Juneteenth’s name in some states, is certainly tongue-trippier.
More likely, though, it’s because we don’t tend to commemorate things that make us feel bad about ourselves. Ending slavery was a great and noble thing, but America can’t celebrate ending it without being reminded that, well, we started it.
Where Independence Day is all about us getting away from evil tyrants and founding a new nation of awesome, and Mother’s Day is about the many things some nice lady gave us, Juneteenth celebrates us eventually kind of taking back something we, as a nation, did that was unspeakably awful… something for which we can never truly be forgiven.
I don’t know about you, but Arbor Day’s starting to sound pretty good right about now.
Ivan previously wrote The Product Placement Audience Bill of Rights. –>