Patriot's Day - My Favorite Holiday
My favorite holiday is, and always has been, Patriots' Day. Growing up in the Boston area, and more specifically in Lexington, there were always a certain number of people in period costumes wandering around, shepherding tourists, leading class tours, or just looking picturesque. But starting in early April, the volume of bonnet-wearing, musket-wielding, tri-corn-hat-bedecked extras began to increase exponentially, culminating in the reenactment on the third Monday of the month. A surprisingly large portion of town would troop down to the green at dawn to watch the brief flurry of activity, and then make our way to one of the pancake breakfasts provided at each of the churches on the green. Then came the parades – the earlier one with the town dignitaries and the scout troops, and the later one with the bagpipes and the floats – with the accompanying fried dough, balloon animals, and general merriment. Over the course of the day, we would encounter just about everyone in town – friends, neighbors, teachers, people who worked at the corner store – with the added thrill of catching people in a new context. Who knew Mr. Fazio was a redcoat? Did you see Jamie's little brother playing fife? Patriots' Day was, hands down, the best day to be in town – mostly because everyone else was there too, and everyone was happy. It was the only holiday besides New Years that everyone celebrated – and unlike New Years, kids were allowed to stay up for the whole thing. Who wouldn't love Patriots' Day?
So it came as something of a shock to me when I realized that most of the rest of the world had never heard of Patriots' Day, and that if they had, it was only in the context of explaining why the Boston Marathon was on a Monday. My first year of college, a friend from the Midwest decided to go to the marathon, and I decided to tag along. I fell in love almost instantly. I believe that running marathons is the most fundamentally egalitarian sport that there is. Most people in the world can run – a 5k, a mile, down the block for the bus. A marathon is just a lot more of it. There's something inspiring about watching people do something so impressive, and realize that most of the difference between them and myself is that they were willing to put the time and effort into it. In what other sport do 70 year olds and 17 year olds compete side by side? I know that some small percentage of the runners in marathons enter with the intention of winning – but most of the runners run to finish. Even the media coverage isn't focused on people who cross the finish line first, but rather on parents and children, people recovering from injuries, new runners, old runners – people with stories. And there's a level of non-competitiveness in the sheer volume of runners: there's no shame in not being first, or tenth, or hundredth out of a field of 36,000.
Running is also the most accessible sport for spectators – no explanations of pop flys, or foul rules, or league differences. There's only one line to pay attention to, one clock to watch, and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of people to cheer for. They run, we cheer, everyone is happy. The Boston Marathon is, particularly this year, a celebration of spring, and of community. It's the first major outdoor event of the season. We all know it might snow again, but it won't stick.
This year, I walked down to the finish line three hours after the elite runners had left Hopkinton. I prefer watching the non-professional runners – the ones who look tired after running 26 miles, the ones who slow down and give high fives, the ones who walk up the final hill. On Hereford Street, a group of people spontaneously broke into song – Sweet Caroline, of course – and the entire block sang along, even getting most of the words right. How many other times do we see people of all ages, races, classes, genders, orientations, nationalities, abilities, religions, and whatever other facts of life divide us, unite in joy? Monday was a glorious example of people coming together to celebrate each other, their community, and spring, and celebrate it in the best way we know how: song, and wild applause. Sound familiar?
When trying to explain the feeling of Revels to people who have never experienced it -the level of community, the shared joy, lack of delineation between audience and performer – I often talk about families, about summer camp, about community theatre. Maybe I should be talking about the marathon – another amateur event, run mostly by volunteers, set in a very particular time and a place, where the spectators are all participants, done year after year in celebration of each other and our community.