America’s appalling holidays

From Loyalty Day to Confederate Memorial Day, a trip through our country's more disconcerting celebrations

Topics: AlterNet, American History, ,

America's appalling holidays (Credit: PhotosbyAndy via Shutterstock)

Perhaps you were shocked this month when you read that years ago, thanks to its association with international workers and the anarchist movement, May Day was officially named Loyalty Day by the federal government to avoid the appearance of condoning dissent. It’s creepy and Orwellian, but it’s not that unusual.

AlterNetIn fact, naming in general in the post-9/11 era, as in the Patriot Act, the Department of Homeland Security and more has reached particular heights of absurdity. And now, in post-corporate personhood America, we also have the grand pleasure of watching everything, from stadiums to streets, get new names after the same companies that try to woo our dollars and influence policy.

But this isn’t a new American tradition. A simple search of other official national and state holidays shows that region by region, we have some pretty appalling holidays on the books. Here are just a few.

Loyalty Day: May 1, the anniversary of the Haymarket Massacre, was originally commemorated as Labor Day or International Workers day. Later the American government tried to counterbalance this with an Americanization day that later, under President Dwight D. Eisenhower, morphed into “Loyalty Day,” — “a special day for the reaffirmation of loyalty to the United States and for the recognition of the heritage of American freedom.” On Loyalty Day, flags are supposed to be flown and celebrations of America held. But not this year, when May Day celebrations came back and took the streets.

Patriot Day: Not to be confused with Patriot’s day, the New England holiday that commemorates the battles of Lexington and Concord (and the Boston Marathon and Fenway home games), Patriot Day is the official designation for the anniversary of September 11th, 2001. As a born and bred New Yorker, I certainly will never let that anniversary go by without remembering–and I don’t object to its being a recognized observance — but it’s another Orwellian name, one that prioritizes duty to country over memory of a loss. To me, 9/11 is not really about honoring national borders, but the opposite.

Robert E. Lee’s birthday and other Confederate commemoration fetes: Several states, including ArkansasAlabamaFloridaGeorgia and Mississippi, don’t let Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday be celebrated without tacking on this commemoration of the Confederate general who led armies into the field to defend the genocidal institution of slavery. This is the first of a few official holidays in the former states of the confederacy that are a little bit sketchy.

So along with Robert E. Lee’s birthday we have Confederate Memorial day, officially celebrated in nine states at various times, mostly in the spring. In fact, Texas has two holidays:Confederate Memorial Day and Confederate Heroes day. And then there’s Jefferson Davis’ birthday, also officially celebrated in a handful of states.

Not all the residents of these states are even aware of this passel of holidays, as this blogger at “Left in Alabama” wrote:

I have obviously lived under a rock until lately. I had NO idea that Confederate Memorial Day and Jefferson Davis’ birthday were state holidays. I did know that for some reason my kids’ school lists Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as the King/Lee holiday. That doesn’t sit well with me.

This underscores the point. Weird holidays aren’t about culture (I could only find a handful of actual “Loyalty Day” celebrations on the Internet but about law: Southerners of all persuasions should be able to celebrate their region without having to commemorate one of America’s darkest hours.

Speaking of America’s other darkest hours, Berkeley, California, led the way in officially changing Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day, now celebrated by various tribal governments. Others, sensing the problem with having a long weekend dedicated to the father of a genocide, have renamed the day “Italian Heritage Day” or stopped celebrating it at all. I say: keep the long weekend, mandate that it be used to honor those whose stolen land we stand on.

Sarah Marian Seltzer is a writer based in New York City. Find her at and tweeting too much at @sarahmseltzer.

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