Is Pioneer Day too Utah Mormon?

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Steve Petersen is a lifelong Mormon of pioneer stock.  Having lived in a few different places throughout the US, he’s a big tent Mormon who wishes to make all people feel welcome and comfortable attending church.

Since moving back to Utah several years ago, I’ve come to realize that many people — including Mormons — aren’t that excited about Pioneer Day.  Pioneer Day is an official state holiday in Utah that celebrates the Mormon pioneers’ crucial role in the state’s history.  The lack of enthusiasm has made me wonder if Pioneer Day is too Mormon — particularly, too Utah Mormon?

As a young kid in Utah, Pioneer Day was one of my favorite holidays.  I come from pioneer stock and grew up hearing inspiring stories about my ancestors.  We still sing hymns about pioneers and their experiences are fodder for talks and lessons.  We reenact portions of their travails and cosplay through Trek.  Even as a teenager in Texas, I watched Mormons proudly attend an unrelated patriotic celebration by dressing up as pioneers.  (They were welcomed.)

However, I’ve come to realize how off-putting the way Pioneer Day is celebrated is to non-members, those who have left the Church, indigenous individuals,  and those who are not of “pioneer stock.”  I wish more people — Mormon or not — didn’t treat Pioneer Day as an exclusively Mormon holiday.

In a sign that non/ex/less active Mormons feel excluded from the official state holiday,  look no further than the emergence of Pie and Beer Day (also known as “Pie ‘n Beer Day”) I first learned about it from my colleagues and non-member friends in 2013.  A July 2014 The New York Times article gave it more prominence.  The following July, a Salt Lake Tribune article revealed the growth of the counterculture holiday.

I can understand the impulse.  When I went to the Days of ’47 Rodeo on July 23, 2015, I was amazed at the introduction of the three members of the Days of ’47 royalty court.  The announcers emphasized that all three women served LDS missions.  Don’t get me wrong; it’s great that they’ve served missions.  But I felt that emphasis signaled that non-Mormons and non-missionaries were not welcome.

Or look at the main parade in Salt Lake City with so many floats with temples, missionaries, and family trees.  Sean P. Means of the Salt Lake Tribune once opined that: “The Days of ’47 Parade and its related events are reflecting an increasingly narrow band of Utah culture — one in which many in the wide spectrum of Utah’s residents don’t see themselves.”

Why would a non-Mormon get excited about a float that depicts kids researching family names to take to the temple?  Mormonism is growing more and more global, and I have been thrilled to see Polynesian, Chinese, and other multicultural and secular parade entries over the years.  Why can’t more effort go toward reaching out to diverse groups to participate?  How often do pioneer stock Mormons en masse learn and celebrate the heritages of other Mormons throughout the country and world with the same zeal as their pioneer heritage?  Why can’t Days of 47 welcome, rather than reject, dignified entries from groups like Mormons Building Bridges?

My Mormon friends with weak ties to Utah, including converts and those of international heritage, often feel disconnected from Pioneer Day.  They respect and revere the pioneers but are bewildered by all the fuss.  One of my Puerto Rican friends once shared a July 2013 Rational Faiths post by Gina Colvin, a Maori Mormon from New Zealand,  detailing some of the challenges of embracing the pioneers when one isn’t descended from them.  The comments on my friend’s post were filled with others expressing similar frustrations.  Considering how we lionize the Pioneers, I can see how people who aren’t of “pioneer stock” can feel like second class citizens in the Church.

I recognize too, that as currently celebrated, Pioneer Day perpetuates a distorted perception of Native Americans.  When Brigham Young arrived in the Salt Lake Valley back in 1847 the Utes, Paiutes, Shoshones, Goshutes, and Navajos lived within present day Utah boundaries.  While there is now acknowledgment that relations between the Indians and Mormon settlers were not always harmonious, Elise Boxer, who is a Mormon Dakota, argues fervently that the holiday diminishes and dismisses the Native American perspective of the Mormon settlers’ arrival.  The very word “pioneer” perpetuates a colonial narrative that belittles the Indians.   Voices like hers are crucial to correct historical inaccuracies that influence how celebrants observe the holiday.

I believe the pioneers are worthy of celebration; I’m proud of my heritage.  However, I don’t feel that we celebrate them in the best manner.  The diverse lot of converts and immigrants that comprised the pioneers would likely balk at recognizing them today in a way that excludes others.  We already ask a lot in following Church doctrine and policy; we shouldn’t add to that burden by demanding all Mormons embrace Intermountain West culture.  Utah is full of people who have stories and histories that are just as worthy of celebration during a state holiday.  We should tell those stories.   We can and should embrace and acknowledge the rich culture of all Mormons from all corners of the Earth.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf said in his “Four Titles” address: “As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are united in our testimony of the restored gospel and our commitment to keep God’s commandments. But we are diverse in our cultural, social, and political preferences.  The Church thrives when we take advantage of this diversity.”

I hope we can follow his sentiments to make Pioneer Day more inclusive so more Utahns, more Mormons, and more members of our communities will want to celebrate the pioneering spirit, wherever it is found.

*Photo Attribution, BLM Wyoming

Comments

  1. Had a long comment, this site ate it, so I’ll be a bit more brief. Both sides of the “Pioneer Day” debate have idiots in them. Exclusion is a bad thing granted. But disrespect from people who don’t want to know ‘our side’ as Mormons IN Utah (with heritage that we’re proud of) and make assumptions about what we are, is equally as bad IMHO. I’m a Utah Mormon, born and bred, and my ancestors came here and settled the place so they could live peacefully and without influence from a then vicious and cruel outside world. Now Mormons are everywhere. A cultural revolution! Both sides of the debate should stop making assumptions. Neither can know the realities of living as the other side, and many don’t want to. That’s why, in my opinion anyway, we don’t live more Christ-like lives and accept people for who and what they are. We’re just humans, flawed and obtuse. We’re striving to be better, to be enlightened. That should count for something. And dismissing tradition because it’s not well understood doesn’t do any good thing for coming generations nor the LDS Community either. Exclusion and tradition don’t have to be mutually exclusive, but perhaps in this case they are. And that’s the fault of mankind as a whole.

  2. I grew up in the Gila Valley in Arizona which is almost as Mormon as Provo and when I was a kid Pioneer Day celebrations were larger and more well attended than Independence Day celebrations. I don’t know if that’s still the case but I can see how that could irk people. Also I travel for work and one July 24 I was in downtown SLC and my non-Mormon colleagues (perhaps not realizing I’m LDS) started bitterly complaining about Pioneer Day. Their main complaint was traffic closures because of the parade but it also spilled over into other social issues that LDS basically dictate in Utah. I got the impression that the dislike for Pioneer Day was more a resentment of the majority Mormons forcing their religion on everyone around them. It seemed a little “sour grapes” to me but I understand their frustration and actually agree with a lot of it since I’ve vowed to never live in Utah even though my parents live there.

    On a funny related note – I now live in Phoenix and my stake celebrates Pioneer Day in the spring because it’s too hot to be outside on July 24. While I’m proud of my heritage I found the celebrations to be tiresome and unpleasant but I’m sure my pioneer ancestors are somewhere shaking their heads at our wimpyness.

  3. Lots of communities have an equivalent recognition of first settlers to their state or municipality (e.g., “Founders’ Day” type celebrations), so I think the Pioneer Day celebrations in Utah are fine. However, while recognizing the religious motivation of the early settlers, today’s celebrations need to be more inclusive and focused more on appreciation for their hard work and sacrifice to settle the place, rather than grow the church. I grew up in Southern Virginia, and was raised in the church there by my convert mother. The thing that bugged me was celebrating Pioneer Day there. It always felt weird. I appreciate the Mormon pioneers settling in Utah and from that place of refuge building a “center place” where the church could flourish and send missionaries out to the world (aka my mom). But asking all members over the world to celebrate Pioneer Day is too much. If they must celebrate something, find out about and honor the legacy of the LDS “pioneers” in their own country and culture. Our worldwide church needs to act like a worldwide church. By the way, my current Utah County Ward did NOT have a pioneer themed sacrament meeting this year (yay!). The talks were all about “remembering Christ” – a fine meeting.

  4. So its ok to hold protests against a religious holiday?

  5. Jack Hughes says:

    Yes, it is far too much of a Utah Mormon thing. I grew up in the Church, but outside Utah. I had never heard of Pioneer Day until I was an adult. July 24th was just another summer day (and still is as far as I’m concerned). Sure, we occasionally mentioned the hardships and sacrifices of pioneers in lessons and other Church settings throughout the year, but there were no parades or celebrations or special events related to pioneers (to be fair, I aged out of YM a few years before pioneer trek reenactments became a thing, thank God). And yet, we were still good Mormons.

    Probably the hardest part of Pioneer Day is the overwhelming cognitive dissonance from seeing pictures of members of the First Presidency dressed in cowboy hats and western attire.

  6. Angela C says:

    I have no Utah or pioneer ancestors and grew up Mormon in Pennsylvania where Mormons are rare as hen’s teeth (0.2% of the population). The only people trying to cram Pioneer Day down our throats were those in the ward who were descended from pioneers and wanted to show off their impressive Mormon pedigrees. So yeah, I developed an opinion about this holiday. In Utah at least it is relevant to the state as a Founders Day celebration, but celebrating it outside of Utah has always seemed like being invited to someone else’s family reunion to me.

  7. Here, here!

  8. I have had mixed feeling about this in the past, but as the years have gone by, I have concluded that we have a lot to learn from the early pioneers (as I read in a stellar tweet last week: we are a church of emigrants and refugees, spiritually journeying toward our eternal home). Evicted from one home, traveling through hardship toward another, settling, struggling, failing and succeeding: it’s a metaphor for every one of us as we spiritually make our way home. The history of the pioneers can teach us how to do this better. BUT. Seeing the saints of Cambodia reenact a pioneer trek (my parents served a mission there) does feel like nonsense. Is it possible to have less fanfare but still learn from them?

  9. There are two separate problems going on here.

    One is the problem of Pioneer Day as a public holiday in Utah. Sure, it’s a founders day, but it has always been celebrated as a specifically Mormon event. With the church’s deliberate integration into the American mainstream, and with the increasing diversity of the population in Utah, a Mormon public holiday is an anachronism. Maybe we should stop calling it Pioneer Day. Instead call it Utah Day. Fire the cowering people who are running the parade right now and replace them with leaders who will make the celebration inclusive.

    The other problem is how to celebrate a specifically Utahan pioneer heritage within a globalizing church. There are interesting comments about that on this thread and elsewhere. My only thought about it right now is this: I’m concerned about how closely tied the pioneer story is to a heritage of persecution and suffering. The pioneers’ sacrifice is the whole point of remembering what they did, and we must never forget that. But I’m concerned about the temptation to think that we ought to recreate their suffering in order to appreciate their sacrifice. We see that in stupidly extreme youth treks, but also in the impulse to exaggerate and take pride in our status as isolated or persecuted in the present day. I’d hate to think that this is the way that the pioneer experience might be universalized in the church.

  10. “We already ask a lot in following Church doctrine and policy; we shouldn’t add to that burden by demanding all Mormons embrace Intermountain West culture.” Well said.

    I spent most of my youth in Utah and accepted Pioneer Day uncritically, to me it was mostly just another occasion to enjoy fireworks and picnics. Now having spent almost 20 years in Illinois it feels to me like a Utah thing; my ward/stake here doesn’t do much except maybe have a sacrament meeting talk about the trek west and sing “Come, Come, Ye Saints.” This year we did neither. Actually, I love that hymn and wish we’d sing it at other times of the year.

    This year I’m noticing more resistance to Pioneer Day on social media than I’ve seen in the past. I wonder if that’s because of the overall political climate in the U.S., which feels so aggressively and terribly anti-immigrant on the one hand, and outraged on the other. (I am in the outraged camp, fwiw)

    I think growing into a multi-cultural, international, and politically and demographically diverse church is turning out to be harder than anticipated. I’m sympathetic to people who feel threatened by the loss of their privilege. That must be hard. I don’t mean that sarcastically, either. I want to say to them that of course it feels uncomfortable to see your church/neighborhood/government/school/entertainment change compared to how it was when you were a kid, but it will be OK, in fact in the end you’ll probably really like it the new way, so don’t fight it. You won’t be diminished by the changes, I promise they’ll only make your life richer.

  11. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    “a float that depicts kids researching family names to take to the temple”. Yeah, I can see how that would turn people off. Heck, I’m LDS, and grew up in Utah, and even I think that would be ridiculous.

    I get tired of the faux celebrations outside of Utah (far outside). I’ve never been able to understand the actual intent of it. The stated purpose is to remember the sacrifices of early Church members, but I suspect it’s really about reinforcing how Utah is the center, and we should all bow to the Mother Church. We often have Sacrament talks that are about local pioneers in the Church, where we reframe as pioneers those who made contributions to the local LDS community, or early family members who joined the Church. It’s all a bit forced for my taste, when we’d just be better off letting go of the whole idea and, instead of constantly talking about how this is now an international Church, actually acting like it is and scrubbing away the Utah-centric parts of it. Of course, if you’ve grown up with Pioneer Heritage entitlement, it’s hard to give that up.

  12. nobody, really says:

    We would have had a full-fledged revolt had we not held some sort of Pioneer Day celebration. I can picture at least five elderly couples calling the Stake President, demanding that he immediately release and excommunicate all local leaders for dereliction of duty, right up there with the reintroduction of polygamy, or using Jack Daniels in place of water for the Sacrament. Tradition dictates two or three weeks of Church History and Pioneer talks, to be given by whomever has the best pioneer bona-fides in the congregation. We had quilts on display, bonnets and straw hats, handcarts, and maps of the Trek(TM) westward. All of July after the 4th is themed this way. We are over 1500 miles from This Is The Place.

    Past wards used Memorial Day as the big combined holiday event, with a breakfast in the park, special recognition of those who served in the military, and patriotic singing. Much easier to invite friends to a Memorial Day breakfast than a handcart demonstration.

  13. I agree with all the points made in the post, but I have a more curmudgeonly reason not to like pioneer day – why, in our tinderbox, poor air-quality state do we legalize aerial fireworks for much of the month of July? I’m ready to shout at all the kids to get off my lawn.

  14. The other night my Utah raised husband announced it was “Pie and Beer” day. I didn’t get it. He finally explained it slowly to me. I told him, I never celebrated Pioneer Day. Like others on here, I lived in the mission field. I am sure we had talks on Sunday about it, but nothing more. July 4th was the big party.

    I also believe we end up ignoring all the convert pioneers. We are almost 200 years old now. Let’s give it a rest. I don’t see the Catholics or Lutherans having “Evangelist Day”. No “Pie and Beer” for me.

  15. Emily U says:

    nobody, really – that sounds awful.

  16. Old Man says:

    Sorry, but as an older Utahn, most of you don’t have a firm grip on this Utah tradition. Some of you are creating a mere caricature of the event. The parade and related events has always included other faiths and multiple ethnicities (or at least since the early 1960’s). Trek has little to do with this holiday in Utah. Treks occur all summer long. Unfortunately, handcarts have been conflated with the entire westward migration, but that is Church-wide. The Church has a peripheral role in the Days of ’47, and members of other faiths and less active LDS have fully participated for over 50 years. Wards do what they want on July 24th and on Sundays in July, about the only connection I can point to is that Thomas Manson used to encourage stakes to build floats for the parade.

    I sometimes wonder if any LDS cultural celebration would escape the wrath of some in the Bloggernacle. I chuckle when some of you hope for an LDS liturgical calendar. The bloggernacle would whine like crazy about it… the Sunday preceding July 24th would be too Utah Mormon!

    Founders’ Day celebrations are notoriously cheesy and provincial. While there are aspects of the holiday which could be improved, it does carry great spiritual meaning for many people. Perhaps we could exhibit the same tolerance and respect for our Utah LDS brothers and sisters that we expect of ourselves and others to have for people of various faiths.

    In all of this, I am wanting to ask: How would you commemorate Pioneer Day? Can you do so without stripping it of actual connections to 1847 and making it an ultra-diverse, politically-correct nightmare?

  17. Old Man says:

    Cat,
    The Presbyterian Church in Salt Lake celebrates Reformation Sunday with the “Kirkin’ o’ the Tartan.” It honors the Scottish ancestry of some of the parishioners. It has turned into a multi-day celebration with large crowds. The Governor shows up and my family enjoys spotting GA’s who come in. The pipers are fantastic. The entire congregation throws their efforts behind this.

  18. John Taber says:

    My wife took out her endowments on July 24th. I thought it was appropriate. After all, the Saints had finally settled in a place where they could build temples relatively unmolested.

  19. Matthew73 says:

    The original post included this statement: ” . . . I’ve come to realize how off-putting the way Pioneer Day is celebrated is to non-members . . . ”

    Just a quick personal observation here. My office is in South Salt Lake at the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon. None of my colleagues are LDS. Most of them are committed evangelical Christians, and they are some of my closest friends. They are always respectful of my beliefs and practices and while they don’t follow the church much, they are not antagonistic toward it at all.

    But having said all of that, a couple of them have commented in the past at how offensive it it to them as Christians that Pioneer Day receives so much more recognition, publicity, etc. in Utah than Easter does.

  20. I have mixed feelings. When you are talking about a state holiday, I think being as inclusive as possible is important. When you are talking about a Church holiday/festival, I think inclusiveness is important, but not at the expense of celebrating/honoring the pioneers. I think the pioneers and their experiences are part of our collective Church heritage and as such are worth honoring. And while talks and lessons are great, festivals and celebrations have a great power to impact us for good. I keep thinking of the Catholic church and the idea of the many saints’ days. The lives and stories of the saints are an integral part of the Catholic church-wide heritage, and the meaningful celebrations and observances that have risen up around them help to enhance that heritage. I think the answer is not to drop Pioneer Day celebrations, but to find ways to incorporate a broader definition of “pioneer” into those celebrations as well as to add other festivals throughout the year that focus on the contributions of other people or groups throughout Church history. For instance, maybe each ward or stake could plan a celebration at some point during the year focusing on the contributions of the earliest converts in that area.

  21. I really think that folks dhould be respectful of other prople cultural traditions. We do celebrate diversity on BCC?

  22. Kit Kat says:

    “But having said all of that, a couple of them have commented in the past at how offensive it it to them as Christians that Pioneer Day receives so much more recognition, publicity, etc. in Utah than Easter does.” I cannot begin to say how much I agree with this statement.

    I grew up in Seattle for the first 20 years of my life. Came to Utah for work and marriage in 1985. I had never even heard of Pioneer Day. There were no pioneer talks or celebrations or firesides. My Mom says they still ignore it up there. It is time for pioneer day to disappear quietly into the past. Lets have a big Easter Parade instead.

  23. I have spent 2/3 of my life in the Beehive State. I vote we cancel July 24 as a holiday and make the first Friday in January “Utah Statehood Day.”

    I guess if BOM historicity is in doubt then we should downplay the travails of the pioneers.

  24. I grew up in Utah and have ancestors that crossed the plains and entered the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. I also have ancestors who were part of the Willie Handcart company. I come from heavy Mormon Pioneer stock. I have never in my life attended the Days of ’47 parade and haven’t participated in Pioneer Day activities since the 70’s.

    I do remember a ward I’ve lived in recently (past 10 years) that decided to commit the entire month of July’s sacrament meetings to the glory of the Pioneer Spirit with 4 speakers each Sunday. The last speaker of the month got up to announce that he was the 16th and last speaker on this subject and he wasn’t sure what he could add. That’s how I feel. How many times do we recycle the same miraculous stories of the pioneers staring death in the face as the cross the plains with nothing but a violin, leather straps to chew on, and faith? I find the conversion and immigration story of my ancestors that found the church in the early 20th century much more interesting, and relevant to most members.

    Plus, July 24th is just too hot to do anything outside for an extended period of time.

  25. Kevin Barney says:

    I’ve lived most of my life in northern Illinois. I vaguely recall celebrating Pioneer Day here, I want to say with a branch picnic. I’m guessing this was sort of an ex-pat importation. But in my adult life, I can recall only one celebration of Pioneer Day (which was a big picnic put on by the stake one year a long time ago). Other than that, we don’t generally observe it here, except for maybe singing some pioneer type hymns in the sacrament meeting immediately preceding it. It’s just not much of a thing way out here.

  26. For the many years we lived in Chicago, which celebrates Casimir Pulaski day on the first day of March, I wanted a “Mormon” holiday. July 24 was awkward but the best I could do for an announced celebration. (I take Good Friday as a personal day and don’t even try to explain.)

    Since spending summers in Utah, July 24 has come to seem political and narrow. The opinion quoted in the OP strikes the right note for me: “The Days of ’47 Parade and its related events are reflecting an increasingly narrow band of Utah culture — one in which many in the wide spectrum of Utah’s residents don’t see themselves.”

    With the fifth year of Mormons Building Bridges being rejected from the Days of ‘47 Parade in Salt Lake City, I’m done. I know others will keep trying and I will probably support their efforts, but this “increasingly narrow band of Utah culture” leaves me cold.

  27. Its too Utah Mormon. Being born and raised in Texas with no pioneer heritage, because we got to America in the 1920’s, this is not part of my religion or culture. Its a cultural thing that only matters if you are part of the Utah Mormon culture or have actual relatives who where part of this.

  28. I’d like to see more variety in the floats. But I’m a bit scared at what a bunch of naive white Mormons would concoct trying to be diverse. Recently in Jackson Hole, actors portraying Indians in a parade put the entry’s business in a scandal, as it would appear the previous generation of Natives’ approval of their reenactment of a historical friendship between a white man and a chief had expired. I see potential problems with the parade organizers inviting diversity, as well; how would Utes and other tribes feel being invited to a parade celebrating the arrival of the people who displaced them? But I could see invitations being extended to Catholics and others of the first groups in Utah (it says something that I can’t name any others) to contribute, if they don’t already. Other than Mormons Building Bridges being rejected* and the probably correct assumption that a Pie and Beer float would be rejected, has other diversity has been excluded?

    *The link pointed to a 2017 article. I’d read that they were FINALLY allowed in the Freedom Festival parade for the Fourth. Were they still not allowed in the SLC parade?!

    Out of the four non-Utah states I’ve lived in, I’ve never seen a state holiday celebrated at all. Maybe I just didn’t live in some other places long enough to discover how they kept their unique state history alive. But maybe Utah is not doing it all wrong.

    Other than the 150-year celebration, I’m unaware of the centralized church’s involvement in out-of-state sacrament meetings and activities, which are the purview of local leadership. It probably reflects the leaders’ ties to Utah more than any nudge from SLC. But a nudge from SLC would go a long way to encourage congregations to seek out the (non-Utah) pioneer heritage in their own locations.

    Where I’m living now, I missed my Utah days enough that I concocted ways for my family to celebrate Pioneer Day. For example, we had an FHE lesson about our pioneer ancestry — Utah, Mormon, and otherwise. (I didn’t see the offending family history float, but research is a fabulous way to find those non-Utah pioneers in your family.)

  29. “Let’s have a big Easter parade instead.” I second that. Make Easter a Thing Again.

  30. …Well, maybe not the “instead.” I’m pro- more parades.

  31. The July Ensign has at least one article about the Pioneers.

  32. Laurel: In 2018 yes MBB was included in the Freedom Festival parade (July 4,
    Provo, public) but not allowed in the Days of ‘47 parade (July 24, SLC, private including LDS Church). “Once again, MBB’s float design, “Build Bridges of Understanding” has been rejected by the Days of ‘47. The organizing committee has consistently refused to even meet with Mormons Building Bridges.”
    (I’m not sure the “public” and “private” labels are 100% correct, but it is how they are characterized.)

  33. Old Man – That makes my heart sing. I live on West Coast. I know last year a bunch of local Lutheran churches held private or interfaith celebrations around their 500 Anniversary. But the town didn’t hold a parade. Nothing that public.

    I do love that Utah is still a parade holding state. I love a good parade. I think Founder’s Day would be a better choice.

  34. jaxjensen says:

    Utah Mormon raised, significant adulthood spent outside UT, and now living here again. The only Days of ’47 event I’ve ever attended is one rodeo as a high schooler. Never seen the parade, hopefully never will.

    The rodeo wasn’t (and presumably still isn’t) Mormon-centric AT ALL. The parade may be. I have no problem with it if it is. At an event celebrating a historical event (the founding/settlement of an area) I have no problem with most of the environment being about those who did the founding/settling.

    I also have no problem with others being involved if they choose, and sharing their part of Utah history. So the Catholics might have a float depicting the Cathedral of the Madeleine, with the dates/year of it opening, or telling of the organization of the diocese here. Or a float about the South Jordan Hindu Temple and when their ancestors first settled here. That’d be fine too… if they want to participate, let them.

    Pioneer Day outside of Utah (or those areas settled near it, like ID or AZ communities) should probably die. It was out of place in our Southern states. Focusing on the original Mormons in the area would be better than focusing on the UT aspects. That can fade away without complaint from me, though I’m not there anymore, so my voice shouldn’t really count (and those of you not in UT should probably not be surprised when we discount your voice on Days of ’47 events here too).

    Talked today to a non-Mormon friend/acquaintance who moved here from NY 2 months ago. I asked if he’s adjusted to the odd UT culture and what he thought of 24 of July. He said he was surprised it seemed bigger than the 4th of July, with more road closures and such for the parade. I asked if he did any Pie-N-Beer parties, and he said a friend did have him over. But he just kept shaking his head, like “why all the fuss over Pioneers?” Personally, I celebrating the founding of a state isn’t any more odd than celebrating the founding of a nation. Celebrating the founding of a different state… well that is just weird.

  35. Shy Saint says:

    Massachusetts has Patriots’ Day which they observe as a state holiday. The rest of us probably know it for the Boston Marathon. They manage to hold their special day without offending people who didn’t have patriot ancestors. Kudos to them!

  36. Elise Boxer, who is a Mormon Dakota, argues fervently that the holiday diminishes and dismisses the Native American perspective of the Mormon settlers’ arrival. The very word “pioneer” perpetuates a colonial narrative that belittles the Indians. Voices like hers are crucial to correct historical inaccuracies that influence how celebrants observe the holiday.

    Apparently some people are totally unaware that Mormons were not the only pioneers, California gold fish, Oregon Trail anyone? So ridiculous.

  37. Aussie Mormon says:

    I assume you mean California gold rush? :P

    Anyway, being waaaay outside of Utah, July 24th means nothing to me. I didn’t even know July 24th was Pioneer day, all I knew was that at some stage each year there was the days of 47 parade. The fact that wagons and handcarts travelled to (and arrived in) the Salt Lake Valley should be important to all members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The exact day the first few arrived…not so much for those that aren’t in the Salt Lake area. Heck, I don’t even know the year the first Mormons arrived in Australia.

  38. Larryco_ says:

    Having lived here for most of my life, I can tell you that most Utahns, including the majority of LDS’s, focus on 3 things each 24th of July: a day off, good food/partying, and fireworks. Nary a word about handcarts is spoken except during the once-a-year pioneer talk in Sacrament.

  39. Kenzie Zaitzeff says:

    A very interesting perspective. I grew up as a “Non-Utah Mormon” so pioneer day was really strange. It was the once a year sacrament talks and lessons of “How brave, how true, how just. We need to pull our metaphorical handcarts with pride.” Which was fine, a bit silly but fine.

    As I grew older I thought it was sillier and Siller. It was a Sunday for homesick Utahites and that was fine. One year I was helping a friend get settled in Florida and she took me to church for sacrament meeting and OH MY WORD they took it to another level! My friend who is not a member of my church felt extremely uncomfortable and we fled after sacrament meeting, I remember saying something along the lines “I promise this isn’t a cult”

    This story is funny and one I look back on fondly. I think Pioneer Day is something very special to a lot of people, but we could do more to make it very special to more people. We could involve Native American perspectives, we could honor pioneers of other faith traditions, pioneers of the first Mormons in families, or various cultures.

    I think a Pioneer is a person who starts out against a culture, area, etc for what they believe in. Who suffer trials for that truth. It could be science, sexual oreintation, faith, equal gender oppertunites, and Mormonism. We are all children reaching out to our Heavenly Parents.

    What do you think?

  40. An unforgetable and twisted Pioneer Day celebration:

    I served a mission in Japan decades ago at a time when there were no stakes in the entire mission. For some reason a larger branch decided to celebrate Pioneer day. They wrote sort of a play about the pioneers entering the Salt Lake valley. All members had roles and there was no audience except the actors themselves. This was held in a grove of trees near the church building around a fire. The 8 missionaries, all from the US, were asked to be the Indians.The Japanese people look quite like Indians, so the costumes were counter cast. I was amazed that many Japanese members, mostly young girls, seemed to find plausible Indian costumes for us to wear.

    We were supposed to make peace with Brigham Young and stand in the background quietly. The narrative was long and boring, especially since we couldn’t understand much of the vocabulary. At some point some of us Indians decided to spice things up a bit and make it more authentic. We started to complain in fake broken Japanese; you steal our land, you steal our water, you kill all the animals so we have no food, you kill our children with your diseases. We started to hoot and holler and dance around the fire like Hollywood Indians. We tied Brigham Young to a long pole and lifted him up as if to roast him over the fire. (He was also the ward mission leader and knew us well).

    The Japanese do not share our sense of humor or appreciate our idea of harmless mischief. They were terrified and called the police. We barely escaped getting arrested and we had a hard time explaining this prank to our native Japanese mission president. I doubt Pioneer Day was celebrated the next year.

  41. Bring on the holidays. Stakes and wards around the US (or, heaven forbid, the world) shouldn’t feel pressured, coerced, or obligated to celebrate it, but I see no reason to dissuade anyone from participating, regardless of where they live or from whom they’re descended.

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