Out on a limb: Celebrating different holidays than our ancestors

Tom Mooney - Out on a Limb
Tom Mooney Out on a Limb -

Enjoy your holidays?

As a genealogist, you know that our ancestors probably looked forward to them even more than we do today, since they lived in times when people often worked longer hours.

However, the lineup of holidays for our American ancestors was a bit different from today’s, something we should keep in mind as we read their letters, look at their photos and study their lives.

A century ago, according to the Wilkes-Barre Record Almanac, Lincoln’s Birthday and Washington’s Birthday, both in February, were recognized as legal holidays. They’ve since been replaced by Presidents Day, also in February, with Martin Luther King Jr. Day falling in January.

Another holiday not yet in existence in 1917 is the Nov. 11 event we now know as Veterans Day. It was known until the 1950s as Armistice Day, marking the end of World War I, but not commonly celebrated until some years after that war.

That’s not the only name change. The original Decoration Day of May 30 has come to be called Memorial Day, with the emphasis still on honoring our war dead. Another name change appears in the works for the venerable Columbus Day, very popular through the years, which some governments are moving to rename “Indigenous People’s Day.”

Independence Day, July 4, has changed for the better. The almanac for 1917 portrays the day as uncharacteristically quiet, with barely a dozen injuries and one fire from celebrators’ fireworks.

Thanksgiving has been beloved since the post-Civil War years, but until the 1930s it fell a bit later in November than it does today, having been consigned to the last Thursday of the month. It is now the fourth Thursday, which usually provides a few more shopping days for the Christmas season.

New Year’s, Labor Day and Christmas, of course, have not changed.

If a legal holiday fell on a Sunday, our ancestors of 1917 observed it on Monday instead. In recent decades we have done that policy one better, celebrating most holidays on Monday no matter when they occur in the week, thereby providing more three-day weekends.

A look through 1800s copies of the local almanac indicates several “flag days,” days noting patriotic events such as battles, on which people were encouraged to put out their flags. Flag Day in June and Patriots Day in September are today’s equivalents.

Cultural holidays have seen change as well, with Halloween moving from a day for adults a century ago to costume themselves and throw parties to one that is more child-centered.

Anyway, “happy (fill in the name of your favorite holiday).”

Genealogy on TV: The PBS genealogy-themed show “Finding Your Roots” continues tomorrow at 8 p.m. with actors Ted Danson, Mary Steenburgen and William H. Macy as guests. The show traces the ancestries of famous people in many fields, often bringing great surprises to them. Locally the show is seen on WVIA-TV, serving the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area. It is scheduled to run through Dec. 19, with a few shows as re-runs from last season.

Historical Society News: The Bishop Memorial Library of the Luzerne County Historical Society will change its hours beginning Jan. 3, going to some later closing times as an aid to researchers. The library will be open noon to 5 p.m. on Wednesday and Friday, noon to 6 p.m. on Thursday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday. The library is at 49 S. Franklin St. in Wilkes-Barre, across from Boscov’s Department Store.

Tom Mooney Out on a Limb
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/web1_TOM_MOONEY-2.jpgTom Mooney Out on a Limb

Tom Mooney

Out on a Limb

Tom Mooney is a Times Leader genealogy columnist. Reach him at [email protected]

Tom Mooney is a Times Leader genealogy columnist. Reach him at [email protected]