This is how Patriots Day became a holiday in Massachusetts

boston marathon

April 19 has been a holiday in the Bay State for a long time.

Every April 19, dentist Larry Logan and businessman Barry Cunha (foreground) rise at dawn to join their fellow Lexington Minutemen in the annual re-enactment of the Battle of Lexington and Concord. On Monday April 19, 2004. Ellen Bullock for WGBH

It’s that time of year again. You know one: the one where you do everything you can to avoid driving into downtown Boston during one of the city’s busiest days of the year.

That is, unless you’re part of the group of brave souls trying to see the boston marathon or the Red Sox game that takes place in tandem.

Patriots Day is a long-standing holiday unique to Massachusetts. But while some may know that it commemorates the Battle of Lexington and Concord, they probably don’t know how it became a recognized holiday in the Bay State.

fasting day

April 19 has almost always been a public holiday in Massachusetts.

According to Bridgewater State University history professor Bill Hanna, this day used to be known as Fast Day, which was a Puritan holiday held before the planting season where people fasted and prayed.

The Day of Fasting was celebrated in Boston as early as 1670Hanna said.

“I was meant to pray to avoid the plague. They also mixed in hopes of the upcoming growing season. It was a day of reflection,” she said.

But by the late 19th century, Hanna said, few people in Massachusetts and New England were already celebrating Fast Day, and the governor at the time, Frederic Greenhalge, was looking to replace it with a new holiday.

revolutionary war nostalgia

At the same time, according to Abby Chandler, a UMass Lowell professor of American history, interest in collecting and celebrating the Revolutionary War history was on the rise.

By the 1860s and the Civil War, Chandler said, northern states like Massachusetts had a vested interest in culturally establishing the North as the “real America.” This sparked the interest of Massachusetts historians in the colony’s role in the Revolutionary War.

This is also the time when one of the most culturally influential Revolutionary War memorabilia was published: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s book. “Paul Revere Walk,” that immortalized the phrase “One, if by land, and two, if by sea”.

The battle between Lexington and Concord

By the 1870s, Chandler said, knowing their historic role in the Revolutionary War, the cities of Lexington and Concord were looking forward to the centennial of these events in 1875 and the centennial of the war in 1876 as fuel for tourism.

“They really start to campaign to be the places that people need to come to truly understand the American Revolution,” he said.

The Battle of Lexington and Concord was one of the early battles in the pre-Revolutionary War periodand it became a victory for the colonists thanks to the cavalcade of Paul Revere and two other horsemen.

In the 1890s, Chandler said, both the cities of Lexington and Concord appealed to Governor Greenhalge to make Patriot’s Day a holiday honoring the battles of Lexington and Concord.

The problem was that both towns wanted to be the center of the celebrations.

“The governor gets a bit of a challenge here because, yeah, [the battle] it starts in Lexington, and yes, it continues in Concord, but most of the British soldiers died in their retreat back to Boston. So you can’t establish it in just one city,” Chandler said.

So, in 1894, Greenhalge decided to make Patriot’s Day a state holiday, replacing Fast Day.

The Boston Marathon and the Red Sox

Soon after, Hanna said, in 1897, the Boston Marathon, originally called the American Marathon, was scheduled for that day every year.

Then, in 1903, the The Red Sox, then known as the Boston Americans, began playing at homeoften a double header, each Patriots Day.

Finally, in 1969, the Massachusetts Legislature moved Patriot Day from April 19 to the third Monday in April, Hanna said. In this way, it coincided with spring break in public schools.

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