States Save The Date
(Updated 5:45 p.m. EDT, June 20, 2008)
Don’t try to renew your driver’s license on Friday (June 20) in West Virginia. The Mountain State will shut state agencies’ doors in honor of the 145th anniversary of its secession from its namesake neighbor.
All but essential state employees celebrate West Virginia Day with a paid day off, joining in the grand American tradition of honoring hardworking forefathers by not going to work. State lawmakers in 41 states have added at least 37 days off to the annual calendar, which already includes 10 federal holidays. The list of state holidays could be one shorter if a New Jersey lawmaker gets his way. State Senate Majority Leader Stephen Sweeney drafted a bill Friday (June 20) to cut Lincoln’s Birthday from the state holiday calendar.
West Virginia staffers can thank the Civil War for their extra day of rest. Back in 1861, Virginia’s western counties weren’t too pleased when the state seceded from the Union, so those counties promptly seceded from Virginia. Abraham Lincoln officially proclaimed the state of West Virginia on June 20, 1863.
While it may not make Hallmark’s calendar, the state holiday schedule across the country is studded with days to celebrate the likes of King Kamehameha I in Hawaii, Casimir Pulaski in Illinois and Cesar Chavez in California and Colorado. Pivotal battles, cultural traditions and the birthdays of famous sons (and the states themselves) offer yearly excuses for a day off.
In Texas, even the state holiday calendar is bigger. Employees of the Lone Star State enjoy eight state holidays – the most of any state. Texas commemorates everything from San Jacinto Day, when Texans avenged their defeat at the Alamo, to Thursday’s (June 19) Emancipation Day, which marks the 1865 day the last slaves in Texas learned of their freedom.
Nine states give their state workers little reason to celebrate. Arizona, Idaho, Minnesota, Montana, Ohio and South Dakota follow the federal calendar with no added state-specific days off. Oklahoma, Oregon and Wyoming are even stingier, axing the federal holiday of Columbus Day to give state employees a mere nine paid days off a year.
The day after Thanksgiving takes the turkey as the most commonly recognized state holiday. Seventeen states observe “Day After Thanksgiving” Day. Nevada opted for a more creative name – Family Day. Georgia and Indiana state workers get the day off for belated birthday celebrations.
Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee was born in Virginia on Jan. 19, but Georgians celebrate a full 10 months later. Abraham Lincoln was a February baby, but in Indiana – where he spent his boyhood – the birthday celebration is the fourth Friday in November.
>Good Friday is recognized by 11 states, although Kentucky workers get only a half-day off. The American Civil Liberties Union has contested this observance on separation of church and state grounds, but courts have upheld the holiday as long as no one is required to participate in the Christian remembrance of Jesus’ crucifixion. Along with Mardi Gras, Good Friday is a “movable feast day,” changing annually in conjunction with Easter Sunday. Only Louisiana and parts of Alabama recognize Mardi Gras as a paid leave day.
Vermont state employees don’t get to stay home on Good Friday, but the state’s colonial heritage guarantees two other days off. The Green Mountain State sets aside the first Tuesday in March to fulfill a uniquely New England civic duty – the town meeting. Town Meeting Day is marked in about 200 small towns across the state, said Frank Bryan, a University of Vermont political science professor. “Every one of us is a legislator,” he said. “We make most of the laws – inasmuch as the state will let us.” Fewer than 20 percent of a town’s eligible voters typically show up, and the meetings can be long and dull, Bryan said.
Vermonters also give state workers Aug. 16 off for Bennington Battle Day. The southern Vermont town stages re-enactments of its key 1777 Revolutionary War battle.
Government employees in Maine and Massachusetts also can thank the Revolutionary War for a day off. The third Monday in April is Patriots’ Day, when the states shut down in honor of the first shots fired at Lexington and Concord in 1775. Massachusetts hosts the Boston Marathon on this day each year.
Evacuation Day gives Massachusetts state workers a chance to evacuate the state capital. In 1901, Boston’s mayor declared the first Evacuation Day to commemorate March 17, 1776, the historic St. Patrick’s Day when the British “evacuated” the city after an 11-month siege. “It was a very clever move on the part of the mayor of the capital of Irish America,” said Brian LeMay, executive director of the Boston Historical Society. The annual St. Patrick’s Day parade winds through the heavily Irish neighborhood of South Boston. And with so many state agencies concentrated in the capital, the day has statewide effects even though it is a paid day off for only those state workers stationed in Boston and the surrounding Suffolk County.
While the Irish lend their flavor to Boston, the Polish contribute to the cultural calendar of Chicago. In the 1970s, the Illinois General Assembly gave government employees the first Monday in March off in honor of Casimir Pulaski, the Polish-American Revolutionary War cavalry officer. However, the holiday is now a vacation day only for Chicago-area schools and government workers in surrounding Cook County. Anyone whose name features the “-ski” sound can enjoy a free hot dog at Chicago eatery Fluky’s on Pulaski Day.
Mexican-American contributions are celebrated on the birthday of farm workers’ advocate Cesar Chavez. California and Colorado designate March 31 as a paid leave day for state employees and a day of community service.
Utah state employees will close up shop in honor of the state’s early Mormon settlers. Pioneer Day is marked on July 24 with parades, rodeos and re-enactments of the 1847 journey to the Salt Lake Valley by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Hawaiians shut down state government on June 11 in the name of King Kamehameha I. His namesake hula competition in Oahu on this weekend (June 20-21) marks the end of a month-long nod to the famed warrior-king, who unified the warring Pacific islands in the early 19th century.
Hawaii, Alaska and Nebraska join West Virginia in remembering the days they joined the Union.
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