Does a bank holiday signify anything?

Published by Rick on Tagged Uncategorized


             A few years ago, when Madonna was first living in the UK, she made some half-assed statement about the abundance of Bank Holidays in Britain, and how lazy the Brits seem to be. Now certainly that’s not the first dumb thing Madonna ever said or did, and won’t be the last. She must have been here in May only, for if she’d bothered to look at a calendar, she’d realize that the US has more, they’re just better spread out. 

                Today is Memorial Day in the US, a time to remember the soldiers who were killed in battle through the many wars. It was first celebrated in 1868, and has continued to be the last Monday in May, though the official date was designated May 30, coinciding with the date that the States reunified after the Civil War. While many attend memorial services or parades, the bulk of the US population ignores the tradition and goofs off, and as an added attraction, the Indianapolis 500 auto race is always held that same day. 

                 So what do the Brits celebrate on their Bank Holiday? I found through some research that they were instituted circa 1871 by Sir John Lubbock, a wealthy banker (natch) with an over-enthusiasm for cricket (!).  Feeling that there needed to be a couple of days in springtime for Brits to enjoy the warming weather and indulge in their native sport, Lubbock was able to use his sphere of influence to get the idea approved by Parliament. Initially, the holidays were (not surprisingly) called “Lubbock’s Days,” and there are only three during the year, first and last Monday in May, and last Monday in August. So how many of us are playing cricket today? Oh, well, it’s not that warm anyway.

                       OK, that’s three plus New Year’s Day, Good Friday, Easter Monday, Christmas, and Boxing Day for a whopping total of 8 official days off per year. Now let’s review the US.

                    Apparently we don’t get enough time off for Christmas and New Year’s, because we’re off again the third or fourth Monday in January for Martin Luther King Day, depending on which is closer to the slain civil rights leader’s actual birthday of January 19. This was begun in 1986, through an act of Congress, signed into law by President Reagan (he was a lot of awful things, but racist wasn’t one of them), and approved by every state but Arizona (at least they’re consistent!).  During the first couple of years it was around, I actually did find myself on that day taking an interest in the celebrations of African-American history, something which I’d never done with any other holiday. Now that I’m in UK, the day comes and goes.

                    So MLK Day gave Americans a January holiday, but what about February? Until the 1970’s, both Abraham Lincoln’s and George Washington’s birthdays (12th and 22nd) were celebrated separately, and usually on the specific day. If either fell on a weekend, well, tough luck. This all got too confusing, and finally it was agreed to condense them into one designated Monday and call it Presidents Day. There were a few years where there was no January holiday and only one in February, and workers died of exhaustion. Or something like that. 

                    Good Friday and Easter Monday are optional holidays, and I remember as a kid going back to school the day after Easter. So we go past May and on to 4th of July, Independence Day. Obviously, Britain doesn’t celebrate THAT one. Go forward to Labor Day, the first Monday in September. It’s meant to celebrate the working forces, and was declared in the 1890’s by president Grover Cleveland to appease the striking union workers, many of whom were killed in street battles with anti-union factions. I didn’t freaking know that until I looked it up! To a kid growing up in the 60’s, it just meant the day before school started.

                        Columbus Day was instituted as a holiday in the 1970s, though I get the feeling that the official date of the “Discovery” of America (As comedian Charlie Hill used to say, “How do you ‘discover’ a place when there’s already people living there?”), the 12th of October, is no more reliable than Jesus “birthdate” of December 25. November is a busy month, as first there’s Veterans’ Day, usually on the 11th, but will go for the Monday after if it falls on a weekend (same for July 4th and Columbus Day). It honors the living war veterans, where Memorial Day is for the non-living ones. Then there’s Thanksgiving, really an intro to Christmas shopping season, as it falls on the last Thursday of the month, and since it becomes a four-day weekend for kids, the malls are totally nuts on that Friday after. The tradition is supposedly the celebration of the harvest of the Pilgrims who toiled the land to grow their own food, and their hardship in doing so, but that aside, it’s also another excuse for Americans to stuff their guts with food.    

                        OK, US doesn’t have Boxing Day, but there’s enough to go around the rest of the year that if you count that extra Friday for Thanksgiving along with Good Friday and Easter Monday, Americans get as many as 13 official holidays a year as opposed to Britain’s 8. They can claim the holidays as significant, but they only mean something to a microcosm of the population. To most of us, it’s a day to sleep in and fart around all day. So what the hell was Madonna talking about?

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