Holidays: Better on Monday

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In an older and simpler time, holidays were days appointed for holy or secular celebration. In the time of the six-day week, nobody cared much what particular day they fell on. The emphasis was on the patriotic speeches, perhaps the parade through town, and a welcome day off from work. Now, with the five-day week and the superhighway, the happiest holidays are those that happen to fall on a Monday or Friday, thus providing a three-day weekend. As any ski enthusiast or beach fancier can testify, there is a lot of difference between the two-day regular and the three-day special.

Years ago, the travel industry began lobbying in Congress to move some movable holidays into three-day weekends. The National Association of Travel Organizations produced figures that showed the frantic effort of making a round trip in a day is so intense that single holidays regularly rack up the highest highway accident rate of the year. One typical survey showed that a month with a three-day weekend, compared with a month without one, produced a 19% increase in business for an airline and a railroad, a 16% increase for a resort hotel.

Lost Meaning. Employers were also sympathetic. A Wednesday holiday was tolerable—at least to the boss, who could count on two solid days of work before and after it. But Tuesdays and Thursdays were painful. Employees looked at him reproachfully if he did not throw in the extra Monday or Friday to make a full four-day holiday.

Last week, Congress finally passed a bill designed to create four permanent three-day weekends by shifting holidays to Monday. The legislators acted only after hearing testimony that proved that the dates were not really certain to begin with. Memorial Day, originally proposed in 1868 as an appointed date on which to decorate the graves of the Union dead, has over the years varied by month and day according to states' whims. Armistice Day, first pegged to Nov. 11 as the date of the World War I armistice, lost its original meaning when it was converted to Veterans Day to commemorate the end of all U.S. wars. Even patriots of Italian descent admitted that the day, Oct. 12, on which Columbus "discovered America"—actually the British Bahamas—could be considered flexible. It derives from the old Julian calendar and would be Oct. 23 in the new. Similarly, Washington's birthday was originally recorded as Feb. 11, since the old-style calendar was still in use when he was born.

The legislation will change Washington's Birthday to the third Monday in February, Memorial Day to the last Monday in May, Veterans Day to the last Monday in October, and Columbus Day to the second Monday in October. The bill will affect only federal workers, but it is expected that everybody else will follow suit. With this in mind, the bill's effective date is set at Jan. 1, 1971, to allow time for unions and employers to adjust salaries and contracts to the new legal holidays.

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