OPINION: A Good Time to Rethink Our Holiday Celebrations

by Sen. Rebecca Saldaña

The Fourth of July was my least favorite holiday as a child.  While it usually meant good weather and barbecue, inevitably some argument about who got to light the fireworks would erupt. With increasing awareness of the history of the United States’ independence, and the many ways we have yet to deliver on the promise of liberty and justice for all, the celebration of our Independence Day has begun to feel a bit hollow. In my social media community, it seems I’m not alone in experiencing a whole mix of emotions and questions about how to mark this Fourth of July.

Many of us long to gather our family and friends to celebrate with barbecues, camping trips and fireworks displays (rather than the jarring nightly fireworks happening in neighborhoods across the country). Unfortunately, we’re also experiencing another surge in new COVID-19 cases, putting all of our families at serious health risks. That’s why health officials and trusted doctors are advising us to fight the urge to congregate and to stay home instead. Being a patriot now means wearing face coverings, washing our hands, and joining together with social distancing gatherings via virtual video-conference apps.

This is a good time to reflect on the purpose of holidays, what they mean to us, and how they have evolved over time. In Washington state, we’ve recently added Cesar Chavez Day and Dolores Huerta Day as observed holidays, and currently legislative efforts are underway to make Juneteenth a legal holiday, which would make it a paid holiday for most state workers.

This recent progress has been a departure from the holidays traditionally observed in our state, which largely commemorate war efforts and still include Columbus Day and Marcus Whitman Day.

COVID-19 has affected our ability to celebrate holidays as we usually do, and we’re living a historical moment that is open to including holidays that reflect the true ethnic and racial makeup and history of our country. This seems like a perfect time to reevaluate the importance of our holiday celebrations.

For many of us, holidays are cultural expressions that focus on the importance of pause, reflection, community and celebration. As we resist the urge to go out and party in large groups, let’s consider how we can achieve these things without increasing our risk of infecting others with COVID-19 or becoming infected ourselves.

Rebecca Saldaña is the state senator for Washington’s 37th Legislative District

Featured image by Craig Kohtz