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Taking The Day Off

By Gabriel B. Eber

President's Day is almost here again, and across campus the preparations have begun in earnest. Skis are being waxed, alarm clocks are being disarmed and reduced library hours are being lamented by pre-meds. Seniors awaiting rejection letters can relax as there will be no mail delivery. Washers and dryers will be packed with the soiled garments of those who have finally found the time to launder their wardrobe for the first time since the beginning of reading period. And somewhere, a handful of history buffs and patriots will celebrate the respective lives of Lincoln and Washington.

Somewhere, someone remembers; but not here.

Sometime during an American child's fifth or sixth year of life, he realizes the importance of the three-day weekend. The three-day weekend means his parents can spend an extra day with him. The three-day weekend means he can stay up late an extra night. And the three-day weekend means he can delay his addition and grammar yet another day.

Children understand these pleasures long before they comprehend sexual reproduction, the structure of our government or any of the other traditional lessons of childhood. As he enters adolescence, he may combine the three-day weekend with another time-honored American tradition: the road trip. And unless he was born into money, he will no doubt learn to equate that pasted-on day with time-and-a-half.

There are those who condemn the shameless disregard for our national holidays. Memorial Day, after all, should be a time to honor and reflect. Instead, it has become synonymous with hot dogs, hamburgers and lighter fluid. But condemnation only polarizes and inflames while leaving the underlying problem unaddressed. The plain truth remains that for many Americans, several of our national holidays have become irrelevant. In the spirit of maintaining a vital and meaningful civic culture, maybe it's time we made some changes. Here are some suggestions:

--Remove Columbus Day: The true symbolism of Columbus Day is denounced by many, and ignored by almost everyone else. A significant portion of the American people find the holiday downright offensive.

--Remove President's Day, or at least change its name: The contributions of Lincoln and Washington should not be diluted by lumping them together with lesser specimens of the American Presidency. Anyway, Washington can be honored during Independence Day. Think about it.

--Add Valentine's Day: Love and commitment are certainly worthy of national commemoration. And besides, everyone already celebrates it anyway. Quite correctly, naysayers will argue that the celebration of Valentine's Day discriminates against single people. To compensate for this injustice, the unattached will be given two days off instead of one.

--Add Halloween: It's not deserving of full holiday status, though a half day seems appropriate. All Hallow's Eve is not just for kids anymore, and getting out of work a few hours early would allow for more elaborate costumes and decorations. On a more serious note, parents would be able to escort their progeny through the very real dangers that have regrettably cast their shadow over the institution of trick-or-treating.

While the suggestions listed above are offered only semi-seriously, there is nothing flippant about the goal of maintaining a vital and relevant civic culture. Civic institutions such as national holidays and national anthems must have meaning in order to bind our country together.

Fragmentation already threatens to destroy the world's most influential democracy and we cannot afford to turn our backs on the things that we have in common as residents and citizens of the United States of America.

We need more holidays like Thanksgiving that bring us together with a common cause. Unless we cultivate meaning and freshness, our national holidays will remain excuses for atomistic and egoistic self-indulgence. For now, we'll just have to settle for sleeping past noon this Monday.

Gabriel B. Eber's column appears on alternate Saturdays.

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