Veterans Day and the Other Holidays That People Just Don't Celebrate Like They Used To

Keep Houston Press Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Houston and help keep the future of Houston Press free.

These days Veterans Day is simply a holiday celebrating veterans and their service. That's it. But the U.S. version of this holiday used to be a much bigger deal, and in the days before that it was actually another holiday entirely, Armistice Day.

Today some people will definitely remember and maybe they'll thank someone if they see them wearing a uniform or some other hint that they might have served in one of the many wars. But in the public's mind, it's really not the big deal that it once was. In the spirit of the lack of spirit that now surrounds Veteran's Day, we've come up with a list of holidays, including Veterans Day, that are no longer (and in some cases never were) the big, much-celebrated deal they once were in certain parts of the country.

5. Columbus Day. So way back in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue arriving on this side of the ocean on October 12,1492. Of course, Columbus wasn't actually the first to discover the New World. There were Native Americans there forever and the Vikings made it across the big water like 500 years before Christopher Columbus even got his first boat. But Columbus Day has been celebrated in some form since colonial times, by patriotic Americans who want to celebrate patriotism and stuff and by Italian-Americans in particular who view the holiday as a chance to celebrate their heritage, since the guy was Italian and all (the holiday is big in Italy too.) Thus the holiday has been celebrated for the American version of forever (i.e. longer than the United States has existed) and is a particularly big deal in places up North, like New York.

But then once you get to places like Texas, Columbus Day is decidedly less of a thing. Sure we all learn the poem about the sailing and some of us learned the song that talks about the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria, but this is nothing close to a shut-the-world-down-we're-having-a-holiday kind of event in this part of the country. It's not that we don't care, so much as we forget to remember this is a big deal. But those who look forward to Columbus Day shouldn't feel too slighted. Texans forget our own holidays almost as easily.

4. Juneteenth. Juneteenth is a holiday that celebrates the emancipation of the slaves in Texas on June 19, 1865. It is otherwise known as Emancipation Day or Freedom Day but Juneteenth has a history holiday-wise that can only charitably be described as complicated. History buffs will have caught that President Abraham Lincoln actually issued the Emancipation Proclamation (which only freed the slaves in the Confederate states by the way) way back in 1862 and it went into effect on January 1, 1863.

So why is there a very large gap between then and the start Juneteenth? Well, news traveled at a crawl in those days and Texas was a vast expanse of territory a long way off from the other states. By 1865 news was moving across the Confederacy that the Civil War had ended with Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendering to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, but the Confederate soldiers in Texas were some of the last to know, only surrendering in early June 1865.

On June 18, 1865 Gen. Gordon Granger arrived with his troops and read a proclamation informing Texas slaves they were free, and thus a holiday was born. Of course it wasn't that simple though. The following decades saw the Jim Crow laws make it impossible for black people to use public land for their celebrations and then the Great Depression forced them off the land and out of the south into the Great Migration.

The holiday never died out but it was imported to other parts of the country, Meanwhile it only took more than 100 years for Juneteenth to become a recognized holiday in Texas and it has come to be an observed holiday in other parts of the country. Observed meaning that people know it exists, even right here in Texas.

3. Lincoln's Birthday. Lincoln wasn't exactly universally beloved as a president (despite being acknowledged by just about everyone as one of our greatest presidents ever) but regard for the tall skinny guy with the tall skinny hat went through the roof after the president was assassinated in Ford's Theater by John Wilkes Booth. (We've always thought Lincoln would have been bemused to find he'd been rendered a something of a saint upon his death.)

Anyway, less than a decade passed and guy out in Buffalo, New York started lobbying hard to have Lincoln's birthday, February 12, declared a federal holiday. He never succeeded but he did most likely become the first person to observe the day as a holiday in 1874. The thing is Lincoln's birthday never really caught on as its own holiday partly because George Washington's birthday was already a federal holiday celebrated on the third Monday in February.

Lincoln's birthday did earn enough observance that a song, "Father Abraham" was included in that classic Hollywood tour of the holidays, Holiday Inn. However, Bing Crosby sang the song while wearing blackface, which is why you don't catch that particular number during the annual holiday airings of the movie on most channels. (He also does a fairly entertaining number about Washington's birthday so at least in Crosby's case, the proprieties were observed.)

Anyway, some states combined the two holidays, so that Washington's birthday became Presidents Day and Presidents Day thus covered both Washington and Lincoln. The day is still remembered in Lincoln's home state of Kentucky though. Wreathes are laid at his birthplace in Hodgenville, Kentucky and at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. But don't try telling your boss you just thought everyone had Lincoln's Birthday off, because this is one that never achieved true holiday status.

2. San Jacinto Day. Way back when (and we're talking just a few decades ago) San Jacinto Day was a big deal around the Lone Star State. The holiday commemorates the battle of San Jacinto fought on April 21, 1836. It was the final battle of the Texas Revolution, the one that actually won Texas independence (or concluded the hostile takeover of the state, depending on your point of view.)

For those who somehow missed out on that entire Seventh grade Texas history class, this was the battle where Sam Houston and his army waited until the afternoon when the Mexican Army traditionally settled in for their siesta (rumor has it that Gen. Santa Anna was actually enjoying the attentions of a local prostitute more than sleeping.) Either way, Houston waited until everyone was engaged to order the attack. The Texan army came roaring into the Mexican camp yelling "Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!" The battle lasted all of 18 minutes and the Texans won.

For years San Jacinto Day was a state holiday, the type where kids are out of school and everyone -- or at least government employees -- got the day off to celebrate the great triumph. However, aside from an annual reenactment out at San Jacinto, the holiday has pretty much been dropped.

1. Veterans Day. It all started with peace declared on the 11 hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. Up until then armies had been engaged in a bloody mess that was then quaintly known as "the war to end all wars" and the Great War, but on that day, Nov. 11, 1918, the armistice was signed and World War I was finally over. In the following years, Armistice Day became a day for remembrance, kind of like how September 11 is now. It was declared a holiday by President Woodrow Wilson in 1919, and was observed in the United States and around the world.

In 1945 a World War II veteran had the idea of expanding Armistice Day to honor the veterans of all wars, since World War II had produced a significant number of them in the intervening years. The plan was accepted and Veterans Day was born (though it didn't formally become Veterans Day until 1954.) It's a federal holiday and everything, but for reasons passing understanding it's not the showstopper that is Christmas by any means and doesn't even quite hold the rank of Memorial Day, either.

However, Armistice Day, the day the whole holiday was built on, is still a very prominent holiday in other countries, including Great Britain and Canada. Many Canadians even wear red poppies every November 11 in honor of those who died in World War I -- they call it Remembrance Day and their holiday, like many other Allied powers, is aimed at honoring those who died, not just anyone who served.

Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the Press community and help support independent local journalism in Houston.


Join the Press community and help support independent local journalism in Houston.