If you ask me what my favorite holiday is, I’ll probably lie to you.
It’s not that I want to lie. I’ve just been around enough to know that it’s the easiest thing to do. Usually, I’ll pick the Fourth of July, and give some sort of spiel about how you haven’t experienced the Fourth until you’ve spent it on Cape Cod. Sometimes I go with Thanksgiving and give an anecdote about my ancestors who came over on the Mayflower, and that tends to go over pretty well.
The truth is, my favorite holiday is a Monday — the third Monday in April. Its origins aren’t Biblical, or even national. For most of the country, and the world, it’s just your run-of-the-mill Monday.
On the third Monday in April, a fifteen minute drive from the house I grew up in, over 30,000 people flock to a small town called Hopkinton, more than tripling its population for the day. Thousands more will head to other towns, some big and some small, and post up along a 26.2-mile route into the city of Boston.
Thousands more still will head into Boston to watch a Red Sox game that starts eight hours earlier than normal.
People come from all over the world to celebrate my favorite holiday. It’s actually a bucket list item for a lot of them — to run those 26.2 miles.
Those who participate in the day decorate themselves and their homes in yellow and blue. The flags that blow in the wind generally feature a unicorn, or are emblazoned with a ribbon and the phrase “Boston Strong.” The logos of area sports teams are, as always, also appropriate attire.
The decorations from my favorite holiday are left up all year, like the Christmas lights on that one house every suburban neighborhood seems to have. A thick strip of yellow paint lays across Boylston Street, a finish line for runners and a constant reminder of holidays past and those to come; a reminder of what so many people work and train so hard for.
When I was a kid, the third Monday in April marked the beginning of school vacation, which is when my fondness for it really began. My family and I would be among the thousands to line the 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to Boston. Many years, my dad would work the race, or even run part of that route, but hop out early to get to work — as a track coach, fittingly enough.
As I got older, the excitement of the day took a back seat to sleeping in late and general teenage apathy. My love for it started to blossom again when I went away to college, far from my hometown, and I realized for the first time how unique and special that Monday truly is. My family, split up throughout several states, would text during the morning as the Red Sox played and the elite pack of runners reached Boylston Street.
One year, my brother texted asking if anyone else had seen those explosions by the finish line.
After that, the amount of people who knew about my favorite holiday grew exponentially. Friends from other states started asking me about this fascinating celebration that only Massachusetts has.
It isn’t easy to bring the joy back to an occasion that has been tarnished with so much unnecessary violence and loss. Those colors and that unicorn took on a new meaning — not just of the strength and power of human athletics, but of the human spirit in the face of fear. A group of 40 bearded baseball players started the season as just another team, but ended it as champions and a support system for millions.
The finish line went from a goal to ground zero, to an iconic symbol of hope and love.
My favorite holiday is the third Monday in April. In Massachusetts, it’s called Patriots’ Day. Each year, thousands of the world’s best athletes run the course of 26.2 miles, from Hopkinton to Boylston Street, as part of the Boston Marathon. Friends, family and total strangers come out to eat, drink and be merry, cheering on the runners from the starting line to Heartbreak Hill and everywhere in between.
The Red Sox play at 11 a.m. every Patriots’ Day, about two hours after the first heat of the Marathon begins. In years when we’re really lucky, the Celtics or Bruins will be playing a postseason game that night.
Patriots’ Day is unique to Massachusetts, to Boston. It’s a celebration of everything this city stands for and has stood for since the infancy of our country.
If you ask me what my favorite holiday is, I won’t want to lie to you — but I probably will, just to keep the small talk small.
If you ask me about Patriots’ Day, though, grab a comfortable seat and some popcorn, because those of us who love it have a lot of stories to tell.