We celebrate the 24th of July as Pioneer Day because it is the anniversary of the day that the first Mormon pioneer company, led by Brigham Young, caught glimpse of the surprisingly arid Salt Lake valley, and dear Brigham uttered the famous words: “This is the right place.” They entered the desert and made it bloom.
Here’s what Pioneer Day means to me:
Growing up everywhere BUT Utah, Pioneer Day meant getting dressed up in pioneer garb (yes, we had some because I think that as Mormons you are required to keep pioneer outfits in your food storage supply…in case we have to trek back to Missouri or something…), go to some park with as little shade as possible, eat bad picnic food, sweat a lot, be coerced into playing “pull the stick” which requires an uncomfortable amount of physical contact with a practical stranger, asking to go home a lot, and getting cranky.
As a young child, we (the sibs and I) sang songs of the pioneers, heard stories, visited Church history sites, participated in outdoor stage productions depicting said pioneers, and were generally immersed in the idea that pioneers were nothing less than superheroes, which I still do not dispute.
In Utah, the 24th of July is set aside as a state holiday. Most people get the day off work! (Although, if the holiday, ANY holiday for that matter, falls on Sunday, it gets bumped to Monday, like this year).
But it wasn’t until I visited my grandparents in Bountiful for the whole month of July in 1984 that I realized the extent to which Pioneer reverence was carried out. There are parades, fireworks, picnics, and barbeques(and if you DON’T live in Utah, lots of primary and ward activities held in said shade-less parks). Grandma and Grandpa took me and a bushel of cousins to Sugar House Park to watch sky divers, eat candied apples, and see the best fireworks EVA! This is the right way to celebrate a pioneer!
It was a magical day…although looking back, I might not have known it wasn’t the 4th of July. But never mind, I live in Utah now (purely by accident) and I love the extra holiday. I love that people set off fireworks and that I can smell barbeques cooking all day. I love that people still dress up as pioneers and re-enact the trek down the canyon into the valley.
Where ever we end up, will I make my future posterity dress in frilly calico and endure the shade-less July heat? Probably, because I think you cannot be called a true Mormon unless you have experienced this rite of passage or have been refined in the refiner’s fire…and I think this pretty much counts.