Civic commitments are an intrinsic part of American national holidays

Written by Derek Monson

November 17, 2021

In our minds, we usually link Thanksgiving and Christmas with the things that are most important – gratitude, family, friends, and holiday traditions. One thing that we may overlook, however, is how so many of our shared national holidays in the United States are also an expression of our common civic connection and commitment.

If you search for official federal holidays, you will get a list of 12: New Year’s, Martin Luther King Day, Inauguration Day, Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Juneteenth National Independence Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Consider the nature of those public holidays. Two connect directly to honoring American soldiers. Three commemorate individuals who played pivotal roles in the founding or development of America. Two recognize the freedom and independence of Americans. Two recognize celebrations whose historical roots are religious faith and tradition. One celebrates the peaceful transition of political and governing power from one group of people to the next, while another celebrates the accomplishments of American workers.

These holidays celebrate or are founded on an underlying theme or idea that is essential to understanding what the United States is, what it stands for and how it works. These include patriotism, equality, freedom, independence, gratitude, providence, religious liberty, honest labor, and democratic self-governance – to name just a few.

As we sit down to our Thanksgiving meal with friends and family, we are celebrating a family gathering and building friendships with loved ones. But we are also taking part in a shared civic exercise honoring the values of gratitude and religious freedom that motivated the holiday.

When we attend Fourth of July or Juneteenth festivities, we are participating in shared civic celebrations of independence and freedom as Americans. By actions we take to honor veterans and support American soldiers on Memorial Day and Veterans Day, we are joining in a shared expression of patriotism and respect for those who have protected and defended our freedom. By recognizing Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Labor Day and George Washington’s birthday, we are taking part in a shared civic commitment to uphold equality, the dignity of work, and respect for those who devoted much of their lives to building the United States of America.

Holidays are wonderful opportunities to prioritize and celebrate family, friends and traditions. Nothing should take away from that. However, we should be willing to consider adding to those things in our celebration of national holidays.

American national holidays are opportunities to remember and renew in our hearts and minds the shared civic commitments that unify us as Americans. Just as important, they are chances to help younger generations learn their civic commitments and forge a personal connection to their fellow Americans. The civic commitments embedded in America’s celebration of national holidays is one more thing to be grateful for as we sit down to a Thanksgiving feast this year.

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