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Food for Thought: Recognizing Holidays

Posted by Amanda Gustin on April 16, 2012 in food for thought |

The third Monday of April is recognized in Boston as Patriots Day. On paper, it’s a commemoration of the Battle of Lexington and Concord, one of the major events – perhaps THE major event – during the beginning of the American Revolution. Every year, there’s a large reenactment in Lexington and Concord. Local Minutemen reenactors wake at the time at which their towns were alerted that the regulars were out and march to Battle Green.

Yet, the event that everyone really celebrated today was the Boston Marathon. The news coverage this morning guessed that 500,000 people lined the marathon route. How many of those people knew that the real (on paper anyway) reason that they had the day off was because of the shot heard ’round the world? Why could I spend four hours watching live coverage of the race and during that time didn’t hear a single mention of the reenactment?

Similarly, Evacuation Day has always seemed to most people a thinly veiled excuse to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. How many people even know Evacuation Day exists?

I’m sure there are similar crossovers outside of Boston. Holidays celebrating public history are the result of years of lobbying by public history interest groups. They must have had some expectation or hope that it would raise the profile of the particular event they were commemorating.

How can museums help keep that profile higher? Is there any use to these days if we ignore them or treat them as yet another three day weekend? Are there better ways to commemorate important historic events? Why do we bother creating those holidays at all? How can we keep interpretation of them fresh?

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