Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Family Traditions: Pioneer Day

Here’s the thing about state holidays—when you move to another state, no one knows or cares about a holiday that you’ve celebrated all your life. Maybe it’s something like being a Canadian in America on Canadian Thanksgiving.

Utah has a state holiday called Pioneer Day. It celebrates the day (July 24, 1847) that the Mormon Pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley. I moved to Utah when I was four, so I remember celebrating this holiday my entire life.

When I was young, our church would sponsor an activity for the children where we would dress up in pioneer bonnets, dresses, and aprons; decorate our bikes, trikes, and Radio Flyer wagons; and then march around the neighborhood as if we were pioneers. Our sneakers looked out of place with our dresses and our bikes were decorated with leftover birthday streamers, but we felt very traditional. Our final destination was usually the church parking lot where we got a popsicle. I know now, of course, that our once or twice around a city block didn’t even begin to compare to a single day’s journey of the pioneers’ 1300 mile trek. But as a six year old on a hot July day, I felt I’d earned that popsicle.*

My girls will very likely never live in Utah as children. Even in large Latter-day Saint communities outside of Utah, Pioneer Day is only remembered as a topic to talk about in church on Sunday. But no bike parades. My sister lives in Utah with her three daughters. Every year they go to a large celebration in a park for Pioneer Day. It involves a lot of booths and displays that tell you about the history of the pioneers and celebrates the sacrifices they made to settle these valleys.

This year I was lucky enough to be in Utah with my daughters for Pioneer Day. And my three year old now has her own pioneer bonnet to add to her dress up collection. They are too young to remember this Pioneer Day in particular, but it was nice for me to be able to share a holiday from my childhood with them. And maybe next year, though we won’t be in Utah, we’ll dig out the bonnet and talk about what it means to be a pioneer.

*Our church often sponsors real three day treks for youth where they have to push handcarts, dress and eat like pioneers, and actually walk the distance the pioneers had to walk in a day. I never had the opportunity to do that, but have heard good things about the experience from those who have.

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