Dienstag, Juli 24, 2007

Pioneer Day

The 24th of July means different things to different people.

If you live in Portland, it means you will finally be able to go to Ikea without having to leave the state.

If you a Mormon* anywhere in the world, it is Pioneer Day. Here in Utah where Mormonism is The Predominant Religion, July 24 is a state holiday complete with parades, rodeos, feasting, and non-alcoholic merriment. OK, there is probably beer at the rodeo. Whatever.

It commemorates the day in 1847 when Brigham Young verified that the settlers had found the right place and could stop travelling west in their covered wagons.

Note: There is no knitting content in this post except that whole reason I decided to write this essay was that I ordered some yarn from the Lime n' Violet website, and the return address from Miss Violet is on "Old Mormon Bridge Road" in Iowa. Iowa territory was the first leg of the journey to Utah in the late 1840's.

When I was a little girl, Pioneer Day was our most fun summer holiday. We got to dress up in what we thought looked like pioneer clothing. Girls got to wear long skirts and aprons, and a sunbonnet, usually made out of a paper bag, although girls whose moms could sew got the real thing. OK, my daughters had real ones. I had a paper bag.

Boys weren't as lucky, since boy pioneer clothing looked just like Idaho farm boy clothing, except pioneers didn't have shoes. Many boys opted to go for the Native look instead.

We decorated our toy wagons to look like Conestogas, or put red, white, and blue streamers through our bicycle spokes. We went down to the church and had a parade around the church. The women made a big dinner to be held at noon, and the men of the community, always busy with haying on July 24th, broke for lunch and joined us.

It was a joyful celebration, because almost everyone in our community could tell the tales of their own pioneer ancestors, who came west in 1847 or '48 or shortly thereafter. It was a story of freedom, because most of our pioneer ancestors had been chased out of their homes by armed individuals who hated Mormons for various reasons: Mormons were anti-slavery in that period 20 years before the Civil War when the pro- or anti-slavery feelings of territories that adjoined the Mormon-populated states of Illinois and Missouri were being decided; Mormons were well-organized, and were bringing many church members from other countries into newly settled areas, so they threatened the social and economic status quo; etc.

It was a celebration mixed with sadness, because moving to Utah from Iowa in 1847 was not a piece of cake. My own ancestors were prosperous enough to move west in Conestoga style, but many people walked. They suffered hunger, illness, exhaustion, and death. People who left too late in the year starved and froze.

Painting by Robert Barrett; see article

The Mormons came anyway, because, like the Puritans who settled first in America, they were looking for religious freedom. If people were going to shoot them and burn their homes in the midwest, they would find someplace that no one else wanted. Utah was great. It was hot and dry and there wasn't any water for crops unless someone re-routed it from the mountains. The Mormons were desperate enough to live here.

The Great Salt Lake is about as salty as the Dead Sea and not useful for much

Nowadays our family usually celebrates Pioneer Day by watching the parade on TiVo, since my daughter Laurel will be in it with her bagpipe band but it is too hot to go sit out there and watch it. Later we will have a family get-together, today combining it with a grandson's birthday party (he missed being born on Pioneer Day by a few hours). On Friday we went to a commemorative concert by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, where our son played trumpet in the orchestra, thus missing the Bountiful fireworks display. We would normally set off our own fireworks, but it's too hot and dry this summer, so fireworks have been banned in our neighborhood.

Some random facts about Utah and Mormons:

*Mormon is a nickname for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or LDS Church, given because members believe in The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ in addition to the Bible. The Book of Mormon was assembled and edited by a person named Mormon in about 400 AD.

Members of the LDS Church practiced polygamy during the pioneer era. The practice had ended officially by 1890, but is still practiced by some groups in Utah no longer affiliated with the LDS Church. My mother's grandmother was the youngest of three sisters who married the same husband so that they could remain together during the move west. There is much discussion about why polygamy was practiced, but the main explanation is that God told them to do it, and then God told them to stop doing it.

Women in the LDS state of Deseret, which was renamed Utah when it became an official territory of the United States, had the right to vote. They lost it when Utah became a state in 1896.

Mormons do not have horns, or hair on their palms or between their fingers.

Mormons believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Saviour of our souls. About the only difference between our beliefs and those of the rest of Christianity are:

1) We believe that God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are three separate individuals rather than three apparitions of the same being

2) We believe that God still speaks to the earth through prophets, and that the current prophet is a nice old man in Salt Lake City named Gordon Hinckley.

Let me know if there is anything else you want to know. I will probably have to look it up to find the answer, but I can try.


Tola hat gesagt…

oh if my scanner worked, id post a photo i have of my DD when she was about 4, in her cute little shorts and tank top, and her sunbonnet, marching around the church pulling her wagon!
(and as a weird aside, the "word verification" for this comment is "ihkea".)

Eileen hat gesagt…

My only wish is that Pioneer Day would come at a more reasonable time of year, say late September or early May. Who needs another holiday in scorching-July? Thank goodness for the clouds this year, though!

Anonym hat gesagt…

What is a classic mormon food item? That is, if you go to a mormon potluck, what will you always find there? My local mormon friend says jello, would you agree?

Liz in NoWhere PA

Kerry hat gesagt…

Great Post, Tan!! Living here in Portland, I miss Pioneer Days. (but you're right, I do have Ikea to console me)

Tan hat gesagt…

Liz, Jell-O does show up at pretty much every potluck here in Utah. My mother, for example, always makes what she refers to as a jello salad, but it will have Kool-Whip in it, fruit, nuts, and other elements of a dessert. Then she will also have a dessert, which may also have fruit, nuts, and Kool-Whip. Not sure why Jello got to be such a Utah fixture. Sadly it's catching. I went to a program at a Russian-speaking Mormon congregation, and for refreshments they had red punch (Kool-Aid) and white cookies, two other popular Utah foods.

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