Friday, June 1, 2012

Still Life With Robin: It's June Already!

by Peggy Robin

It’s the start of a new month, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to address one of the deficits of this particular month: its lack of distinctive holidays. Sure, it’s got Flag Day, June 14. That’s good enough for the calendar-makers to slap an icon on that date (a waving American flag, of course), but it’s just not a big enough deal to give June the festive touch it ought to have. Besides, flag day will always be overshadowed as a flag-waving occasion by the Fourth of July, less than three weeks later. (June 14, was chosen, incidentially because on that date in 1777 the Continental Congress adopted Betsy Ross’s stars and stripes design as the official flag of the United States. More about this at  Although Flag Day has been a federally proclaimed holiday since 1917, it’s not a day off from work; for most people, June 14 comes and goes completely unremarked.

What June needs, in my opinion, is another --or perhaps a few other-- public celebrations. I thought I would push a few of my own candidates:

Bloomsday, June 16. This is the day on which all the fictional events in James Joyce’s “Ulysses” transpire. All around the world people gather in pubs, at libraries, at bookstores, at universities, anywhere people like to read, and take turns reading aloud from “Ulysses.” At the oldest and best attended events (in Dublin, New York, Paris, LA, Sydney, Warsaw, among other places), the reading goes on until the entire book has been read aloud. See "How to Celebrate Bloomsday." The nearest celebration to those of us here in Cleveland Park is at Politics & Prose Bookstore:

The problem with Bloomsday, though, is that it’s an adults-only sort of celebration (especially the pub part of it); for any holiday to take hold and become identified with the month, it needs to appeal to all ages. My next candidate doesn’t quite fit the bill, either. It’s Midsummer Night, marking the summer solstice, observed from most ancient times with feasting, dancing, poetry, and revelry, much of it not-family-friendly. Midsummer Night, astronomically speaking, can fall on any date between June 20 and June 24; this year it’s on the 20th. In both Sweden and Finland, where it’s an officially observed occasion, Midsummer Night is celebrated on the first Saturday after June 19. In England the festivities traditionally start in the evening on June 23. Since the feasting and activities may go on all night in northern latitudes, the merry-making is all past children’s bedtimes. So I’m still searching for a holiday with something for everyone. (For more about Midsummer Night, you might enjoy reading

Now let’s consider the Juneteenth, a holiday based on a momentous event in American history, the freeing of slaves in Texas during the Civil War, on June 19, 1865. The Juneteenth is officially recognized in 40 states, and there is a well-organized movement to turn it into a national holiday (see I certainly think the Juneteenth should be marked on calendars and its significance made known -- but the holiday is arguably redundant for DC residents, as we already have our own officially designated date to honor the end of slavery right here: Emancipation Day, April 16, 1862 (and in this regard, we beat Texas by three full years). Emancipation Day is a day off work for DC government workers, too.

Here’s a good one for both DC and for the nation: June 30 is Vice Presidents’ Day. Why? because it’s the birthday of William A. Wheeler, veep to Rutherford B. Hayes. (Extra points if you even knew we had a President Hayes.) Wheeler was born on June 30, 1819, and it is fitting that the birthday of one of the most obscure of a very long line of little-remembered names is chosen as the date to honor all who have held that office (of which John Adams once said, “The Vice Presidency is the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived." To give you an idea of how obscure Wheeler was, here’s the most famous historical anecdote about him (which is to say, it’s what pops up when you Google him): “Upon hearing the news [of his nomination], Hayes politely asked, 'Who is Wheeler?'" (

Vice Presidents’ Day on June 30 would be a way to honor all 47 Vice Presidents (which is more than the number of Presidents, because a few Presidents have had two -- and FDR had three). If we observed Vice Presidents’ Day at the end of June, we could have all the fun of Presidents’ Day, including the ever-lively debate over where the apostrophe belongs, but with the sort of weather that's good for outdoor barbecues and picnics.

I plan to revisit this topic sometime in August, which is the only other month of the year that, in my estimation at least, lacks a good, month-defining holiday.


Still Life With Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and All Life Is Local on Fridays.

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