My family just got back from traveling to Michigan, where we attended a family wedding and had the chance to catch up with some good friends of mine from grad school. As a gadabout academic who can spend an hour of his summer holiday researching and writing about the following topic, this kind of diversion posed no scheduling problem whatsoever for me. But it did mean that my wife had to use up some paid time off from her job, since August — unlike all but two other months in the calendar — has no widely recognized holiday in this country.
Now, there are only ten national holidays in the United States (eleven if you include the quadrennial celebration of inaugurating a new or returning president), so not every month will be represented. But while March-April have no federal holidays, they do have St. Paddy’s Day, April Fool’s, Passover, and Easter.
But from Independence Day to Labor Day? Nada.
Now, I suppose you could argue that ten holidays is plenty. It’s consistent with what you’d find in other English-speaking countries like England, Canada, and Australia. But Russia and Greece have twelve public holidays, Austria and Portugal thirteen, Spain and Malta fourteen, South Korea and Slovakia fifteen… And if you think that having lots of national holidays prevents economic growth: Germany and Japan both have sixteen. So it seems like in this time of political polarization, incivility, and paralysis, we could come together in bipartisan consensus in favor of taking a hot, humid day off.
But which hot, humid day?
Oh sure, you’ve got some would-be holidays out there, some more worthy than others:
- Women’s Equality Day (August 26th, the day the 19th Amendment was certified) easily has the best case for wider recognition, though it would get a fight from the advocates of National Dog Day.
- The rather sinister-sounding National Left Handers Day (August 13th, for reasons that the website I linked does not explain)
International Beer Day (August 5th – again, mysteriously chosen). I know, I know — it doesn’t seem like Americans need yet another excuse to pop open a cold one in the middle of summer, but consider this recent analysis of international beer-drinking habits. A mere 79 liters of beer per American per year?!? I wouldn’t expect Americans to beat the Germans (109) and Brits (86) at this game (or something the Europeans call “football”), but it’s a kind of national embarrassment that just about everyone in eastern Europe (Poles, 95; Romanians, 97; Czechs, 169!) and even the vino-loving people of Spain (83) hoist more pints than us.
So I humbly propose the following for consideration as our new national holiday, in recognition of some important events in American history:
- Retirement Day (August 14): In honor of the day in 1935 that Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the original Social Security Act. I’m all about continuing the practice of using federal holidays to cater to certain interest groups, so if we decide to simply rename this “Baby Boomer Day,” okey-dokey.
- National Air Conditioning Day (August 5): This is a bit of a stretch, since July 17 (the date the first Carrier air conditioner began working) or May 18 (the birthday of the guy who invented Freon) could also work. But August 5th is the midpoint of the astronomical (if not meteorological) season of summer, so we’ll run with it.
- Don’t Mess with Us Day (August 9): A holiday commemorating our government’s willingness to drop not one, but two atomic bombs in retaliation for an attack on a territory that it had acquired through rather dubious means (for that matter, we could also take Hawaiian Statehood Day — the third Friday of August — national and take advantage of our new debt ceiling to subsidize a long weekend in our 50th state for every American citizen). Don’t Mess with Us Day would provide yet another occasion to celebrate American strength and resolve and, for those who want to be really tasteless, an excuse to set off even bigger fireworks than on July 4th. Or perhaps individual Americans could mark the day by seeking vengeance on a boss, relative, or opponent of a favorite sports team who’s wronged us…
National Humility Day (August 25): Or, taking tongue out of cheek, how about a day commemorating the burning of the White House by the British, a low point two years into the already dismal War of 1812? Much as I like this notion, given the current state of political discourse in this country, I fear that a holiday in honor of arson at the center of presidential power might take us down an unfortunate path.
- Yorkshire Day (August 1): So let’s split the difference with this option. “And what does a regional English holiday in celebration of the land that inspired the Brontë sisters and the food pictured to the right have to do with American history?”, you ask. It shows that we are the friendliest empire in history—able even to make peace with our former colonial tormentors by simply copying/controlling/commercializing their culture. (cf. The Office, Hugh Laurie, Manchester United)