If you happen to be passing through Utah today, you may be surprised to find many businesses are closed, state liquor stores are shuttered, and there seems to be a celebratory spirit in the air. What’s happening, you might ask. Today is Pioneer Day, a day that commemorates the settling of the first Mormon pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847.
Prior to their westward trek to Utah, the Mormons lived in Nauvoo, Illinois; however, after members of this new religion were persecuted for their faith, they packed up and headed out of town in search of a peaceful homeland. After what was reported to be a long, arduous journey punctuated by illness, death, and treacherous conditions, Brigham Young declared the Salt Lake Valley as the new homeland of the Mormon faith.
I moved to Utah almost twenty years ago, blithely unaware of the importance of July 24th. The mountain town I live in has less than 10,000 year round residents, three ski resorts, and most people came from somewhere else. Consequently, it’s a bit of an anomaly in the state and is somewhat sequestered from all things pioneer. I never took the day off work, so it was several years before I realized all the activity that was taking place a mere thirty miles west, not to mention elsewhere in the state.
Pioneer Day is marked by spectacular fireworks shows, parades, contests, traditional dress, and many a family reunion. But in recent years, a counter-culture has developed its own version of the state holiday. For non-Mormon Utahans, Pioneer Day has been re-imagined as Pie and Beer Day. While many are parading through city streets in prairie dresses and bonnets, the Pie and Beer folks are indulging in craft beers and pie, an intriguing collaboration between local breweries and bakeries.
If nothing else, Utahans have a sense of humor. Whichever version of the holiday you’re celebrating, have a good one!