Utah's Days of '47 Mormon pioneer celebration is one of biggest holidays of the year. It has tradition, it has history, it has religious overtones, and it has one of the nation's biggest parades. It's even an official holiday for many workers.
The first such observance came in 1848, only a year after a weary band of pioneers struggled through the mountains and into the flat, empty desert of the Salt Lake Valley on July 24 and heard Brigham Young declare, "This is the place."Ever since, that event has been remembered, dramatized, honored, celebrated, and surrounded with festivities and pageantry.
What's the reason for this constant popularity and depth of feeling?
There are probably several reasons. First of all, the Days of '47 has religious aspects to it. The pioneers came into the valley, not as explorers, not as wealth seekers, not even as settlers looking for new land or opportunity. They came as religious refugees, with freedom of worship on their minds. That kind of freedom is worthy of celebration, no matter what a person's personal beliefs.
A second reason for the lasting power of the event is that so many Utahns have family ties to those pioneers. Brigham Young and his group were only the vanguard of more than 70,000 who came the same way and for the same reason and with the same great personal sacrifice. The pioneer era did not end until the railroad arrived in 1869.
As a result, much of the pioneer story still seems very personal and relevant to tens of thousands of Utahns. Modern members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who have no direct ties to those pioneers also feel a sense of kinship because of the shared belief.
A third reason for the staying power and growth of the Days of '47 celebration is that it marks more than a single event in history. It was not the mere settling of a valley - it was the beginning of a far-flung colonization. Soon after reaching the valley, the pioneers fanned out in all directions, founding more than 350 communities in only 30 years. Those hundreds of places count their beginnings as part of the July 24 story.
As a result, the event is more than parades, a holiday, a celebration with roots in history. It remains a personal thing, a chance to remember the debt to others who made so much possible and did it with incredible sacrifice and commitment.
It's a chance to stand a little taller and try to build upon what was begun 141 years ago with such faith and vision for the future.