The third Monday in April

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.


Three years, nine months, one day: How I feel about ‘Patriots Day’

I was nowhere near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013, but those two bombs still altered my life. It was a dark day, and a difficult week that followed, for anyone with even the faintest connection to the city of Boston.

And now there’s a movie about it.

I talked a lot of shit about ‘Patriots Day’ before ever even seeing it. People asked me for my thoughts on it, being the resident Bay Stater in most of my social groups, and my answer has always been the same: It’s too soon. I don’t want to see this. It’s too soon. It’s too soon.

It’s been three years, nine months and one day since the bombing. That also makes it one year, eight months and a day since Dzokhar Tsarnaev was sentenced to death for all that he did.

That was the cause of my initial discomfort. This person — my junior by about a year and a half — is still alive, sitting in a prison cell, awaiting his appeal. This event isn’t history; this story is still going on.

But there’s a movie about it. A movie that I paid $16 ($21 if you count the bottle of water) to go see today, because it’s not fair to talk shit about someone you don’t even know.

In all honesty, the previews were the hardest part to get through, because they gave me time to think about what I was doing there, sitting alone in the back of that theater on a perfectly fine Monday afternoon. They gave me time to reconsider — which I did, heavily. If there had been even one more clip shown before the actual film, I probably would have left.

I sunk into a false sense of security at the first cheesy Boston accent I heard once the film started. The beginning of ‘Patriots Day’ could have been the beginning to any police or crime movie, and it even made me laugh once, but that flicker of joy faded almost immediately. The excessive attention to characters’ lower limbs (and that completely necessary scene of a pressure cooker bomb being so nonchalantly placed into a black backpack) very quickly and somewhat ostentatiously reminded us all of what this was really about.

The portrayal of the actual bombing and aftermath didn’t bother me, save for the severity of the gore (but the movie is rated R, after all, and human beings are sick). We all saw footage of those explosions and the aftermath from every angle over and over in the days and weeks that followed. I can still see it perfectly when I close my eyes. It was nothing I hadn’t seen before, and it’s something I will see again.

The scenes from the shootout in Watertown didn’t really faze me either since, just like with the bombing itself, I was up all night watching and listening to everything unfold as it happened (though I have an inkling that the action here was played up just a bit).

One thing I honestly appreciated was the inclusion of real security and TV footage from all of the events throughout the film — additions that not only helped the movie remain factual, but that also served as a constant reminder that this. really. happened.

Something that did get under my skin, however, was the depiction of Officer Sean Collier’s murder. Again, it’s rated R, some people have a sick desire to see these things, and had this been a fictional story it likely would have been fine — but Sean Collier was real, and he was damn near assassinated, and seeing him struggle to fight back against terrorists while being shot in the face and head half a dozen times was far more than I ever needed to see.

The same goes for the end of the Watertown shootout, when the younger Tsarnaev escaped from police and ran his older brother over in the process, killing him. The man was a terrorist, he was a monster, and I feel nothing but a white hot hatred for him — but watching a human body get dragged and seeing the life quite literally sputter out of him was borderline sickening.

Am I hypersensitive to all of this because of where I’m from? Obviously. This attack was one of the most consequential things to happen in my life. ‘Patriots Day,’ to its credit, made me feel emotions I haven’t felt since that week in 2013. Had it not been for Mark Wahlberg’s fake I-need-to-be-everywhere character thrown in there, this would have been a great documentary.

After the movie (and its tasteful tribute to the victims) ended, I sat there for a few minutes, trying to process exactly how I felt. All I came away with was the same phrase that has been ringing in my head for weeks.

It’s too soon for the dramatization. It’s too soon for fictional characters, too soon for awkward comic relief, too soon for the excessive gore.

It’s too soon. And for those of us connected to this, it might always be too soon.