Homemade Holidays

(Originally posted in the Stratford Star newspaper on June 30, 2011, in “Walsh’s Wonderings”)

I had an interesting conversation with some eighth graders the other day—yes, it can be done. They outlined their summer vacation plans in relation to two national holidays that bookend their seven-week break: the 4th of July and Labor Day. As they spoke of the coming academic year, they continued to use holidays as the milestones with which to mark important events.

I find it sad that they see the days ahead as a small number of “important” dates in a sea of “filler days.” It’s like the people who celebrate “hump-day” every Wednesday because it’s halfway to the weekend, an outlook that reduces five days of the week to drudgery in the hopes they’ll enjoy the final two. What a rotten ratio.

Of course, as a teacher, I’m constantly planning my instructional units against the holiday calendar. I’ve been around long enough to know I have to finish a unit before vacation, otherwise the Magic Troll robs my students of all memories of what I taught them before the break. During the school year alone, we have Labor Day, Columbus Day, Halloween, Veteran’s Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King Day, Groundhog Day (okay, a bit of a stretch), Valentine’s Day, President’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, April Fools Day (even more of a stretch unless you’re a middle school teacher), Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, and Father’s Day. This list doesn’t even include other religious holidays such as Easter, Passover, and others that don’t coincide with winter or spring breaks. No wonder our children begin to think in terms of “important” days and “other” days. Shouldn’t every day be important?

What we need is a way to turn those “filler days” into “killer days” (and no, Walt Disney Corporation, you can’t steal that for your next promotion). Take today: Thursday, June 30th. Nothing special, unless you happen to celebrate Meteor Day, an observance of the 1908 Tunguska Comet Impact in Siberia, Russia… and who doesn’t? However, there are too many interesting things about this date to saddle it with such a pedestrian name. Three great Americans were born on this day: former heavyweight boxing champ Mike Tyson in 1966, actress Christine Taylor in 1971, and swimmer Michael Phelps in 1985. One of these three is a drop-dead, stone cold fox. I’ll give you a hint: it isn’t Mike Tyson. Speaking of Mike Tyson, on this date in 1960, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho opened. Speaking of Psycho, in 1994 the US Ice Skating Federation barred Tonya Harding for life. See how special this day is already?

In fact, June 30th is chock-a-block with interesting moments: in 1865, eight conspirators in the assassination of Lincoln were found guilty; in 1914, Mahatma Gandhi’s was arrested for the first time; in 1936, Margaret Mitchell’s published her novel Gone With the Wind, which logically led to the 1952 debut of the TV soap opera Guiding Light. In 1974, Soviet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov defected to Canada. (His answer to the hit FOX program So You Think You Can Dance? “Yes. Yes, I do.”)

Unfortunately, some events from this day can’t count because they’re already associated with a holiday. For instance, on June 30, 1962, Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax pitched his first no-hitter against the Mets (Veteran’s Day); on this day in 1936, the federal government approved a 40-hour work week (Labor Day); and on this sunny June day in 1975, Cher married rock star Gregg Allman just three days after divorcing Sonny Bono (April Fool’s Day).

Other out-of-this-world events include the 1995 release of Tom Hanks’ Apollo 13 (with its catchphrase, “Houston, we have a problem”), which occurred 34 years to the day after the Explorer 12 rocket failed to reach Earth orbit. Exactly ten years after that, three Soviet cosmonauts died when their spacecraft depressurized during re-entry. Eleven years later, the doomed space shuttle Challenger rolled off the assembly line for delivery to Edwards Air Force Base. In short, let’s avoid any future June 30th launches.

There were other tragedies on this day as well: In 1520, Montezuma II, the last Aztec emperor, was murdered as Spanish conquistadors fled the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan. June 30, 2003, saw the death of comedian Buddy Hackett, a man with whom my wife shared an uncanny (and unfortunate) resemblance as a child. Worst of all, who can forget that dark day on June 30, 1985, when the creator of the Twinkie, James A. Dewar, shed his mortal coil. Coincidently, this was the same day the atomic clock (the world’s official timekeeper) ticked off one extra “leap second” to compensate for the gradual slowing of the Earth’s rotation. If you were having a bad day that day, you could be forgiven for thinking it lasted longer than usual. That is, unless your name was James Dewar, in which case it wouldn’t have mattered.

There are many other important June 30th events in history, but I rarely paid attention in social studies. Yes, I neglected to mention that this date saw the majestic rise of New Kids On The Block (their single “Step by Step” shot to #1 on both the US and UK charts), but some stuff I just have to assume everybody already knows. The important thing is that we can make any day a holiday with a little research and a homemade holiday name.

After careful analysis of all the historic events that happened on this day, there is only one logical name for June 30th on the calendar: Christine Taylor Appreciation Day! (C’mon, you saw this coming a mile away—she was Marsha in the Brady Bunch movies. Duh!)

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