COLUMN: It’s only Thursday

Harry Caines contributes a weekly column to His column is a work of opinion, and does not reflect the views of Cache Valley Daily, the Cache Valley Media Group, or its employees.

The Mummers Parade takes place every New Year’s Day (weather permitting) in my hometown of Philadelphia. Every year but one that I have lived in Utah I have flown home to participate. The parade features great music, beautiful costumes and lively theatrical presentations.

The parade also features rampant drunkenness, and because of that, bawdry behavior, fights, trash, noise and general mayhem. It is a fantastic event…but not without flaws.

Most people from Philadelphia love the parade. Some do not—but those who seem to be the most vocal of dissenters are young professionals who recently have moved to the city. They overpay for houses near the Mummers clubhouses and then complain about the thing that made that neighborhood so desirable. It makes no sense to me at all. But I do understand why many who come to my beloved hometown do not like or understand Mummery.

They just were not born into it.

Hello, Pioneer Day!

Every July 24th I have to endure this Utah state holiday which I simply do not have any relationship with. None.

As the story is often told, Brigham Young and his motley crue of Mormon pioneers came upon the Salt Lake Valley on July 24th, 1847. Young purportedly said, “This is the place” and the Mormons pitched their tents here.

I often make fun of this apocryphal story. I imagine Young probably made a comment about his feet hurting, or wanting to have lunch, or the rancid smell of the lake. Or, he did say those words, but with a question mark.

And I sneer in contempt when I am told how this is a uniquely American holiday. Not quite. Not since the origin of the holiday centers on a group that left the U.S. and pitched their tents in Mexico.

That’s right. When Young and the rest hunkered down, they did so on Mexican soil. A large group of undocumented workers leaving a country they had little opportunity to flourish in illegally crossing the border to make a better life for themselves.

Sound familiar?

Pioneer Day. I just don’t feel it. And the reasons why are simple to type out.

I am not a practicing Mormon…and my family is not from Utah.

In my opinion, PIoneer Day is a Mormon holiday. It’s that simple. This is a day where Mormons who live in Utah remind themselves—and all of us who can’t possibly forget—that Utah belongs to them.

They were not the first Europeans in what we call Utah, but they built this place. And Pioneer Day, with the subtlety of a bull elephant in musth, is their way of letting everyone know they call the shots in these parts.

Is this a stretch? Possibly. Am I adding a subliminal, sinister intent to a fairly harmless holiday? Well, if it is sinister, we are not supposed to know about it.

But the premise is not something I decided on alone. Most of my fellow Utahns who are not adherents of the “dominant religion” of Utah simply do not care about the holiday. Those who do come from Mormon families that have been here for a long time—some came over with Elder Young!

Some of my university friends appreciate the paid day off of work. Free money! Wooooo!

My point I believe is made. July 24th is when Mormons in Utah celebrate themselves; and they make sure the rest of us know about it. The parades and other events have more syrup than every tree in Vermont combined. As an apparatus of propaganda, George Orwell would write his magnum opus on thought control based on the (not so) subliminal messaging found in your tradition Pioneer Day event.

It is not so bad for the rest of us. We can use the day off to go hiking, or enjoy lunch with friends; or, as some people I know and suspect will do, drink cheap beer in their living room until they pass out. But we have to do something! This holiday is going to be in our faces otherwise.

I do understand why Pioneer Day is important to the Mormon culture in Utah. Despite my disdain for some of the sugar-coating of Mormon history from back then, I still admire Young’s ability to turn an arid desert into what it is today—a succession on non-descript strip mall, cookie cutter towns.

No, seriously, even the most avid Mormon-basher would have to admit that the Mormon pioneers did what was an arduous task to do. Many other areas of the American West lent itself to growth and agriculture more readily than here. This area certainly was not ideal. But the industrial spirit inherent in those who settled this area is responsible for Young’s bizarre choice of places to hang his hat.

I admit it, the Utah Mormons have every right to celebrate this holiday. I take part in a cultural event every January 1st that is certainly peculiar and ludicrous to anyone unfamiliar with Philadelphia. But, to me, it is the best thing in the world. How can I begrudge another group the same glee I feel?

So to all my Mormon friends in Utah, enjoy YOUR day. Celebrate those who came before you. This is entirely right and proper. But please understand that for us in the minority who have no attachment to this event, allow us to think Pioneer Day as something else. To us, it’s only Thursday.

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