Never, never on a Sunday
Milwaukee’s 5th of July celebration arouses ire
When the fourth day of July falls on a Sunday, Milwaukee schedules its community celebrations on Monday, the fifth of July. That’s what happened this year and it aroused the ire of at least one Compass reader.
The reader commented that he was offended the holiday was celebrated on the fifth and finds “the whole matter creepy and unpatriotic.” He asked, “What is next, Thanksgiving on a Monday?”
Since his post, various opinions and pronouncements have come my way, which speculate about why the holiday was celebrated on Monday, including those from former Bay View resident John Manke. He speculated that there were old “blue laws” in Milwaukee that prohibited the sale of beer on the Sunday. Manke also stated in a post to the Compass website that, “the city of Milwaukee, by law, does not celebrate Independence Day on Sunday. That is why all the celebrations were held on Monday, July 5th.”
I was not aware of that ordinance so I decided to find out why Monday, and not Sunday, was selected for the city’s Independence Day celebrations this year.
I contacted Gary Petersen at Milwaukee’s Department of City Development. His duties include providing staff support to the city’s Fourth of July Commission, which sets the date of the city’s community Independence Day celebrations.
Petersen explained that celebrating Independence Day on Monday, the fifth of July, in years when the holiday falls on a Sunday, is a long-standing tradition in Milwaukee.
In some neighborhoods, Petersen said, community parades are staged in or near church parking lots. And “back in the day [when the city had to decide when to schedule its celebrations],” he said, “some of those schools were parochial schools.” That set up a conflict: Should the parishioners attend church services or ditch church and participate in the parades? The city played it safe and decided to celebrate the holiday on Monday, not Sunday.
When Fourth of July Commission considered the date this year, they decided to leave things as they were and scheduled the community celebrations for Monday, July 5th. Petersen said that’s because there are still parochial schools with parking lots where the parade starts, or very close to where the parade starts.
Petersen also said he doubted that there was an ordinance that prohibited the celebrations being held on Sunday.
Eileen Lipinski of the city’s Legislative Reference Bureau confirmed that there is no such ordinance. However, she said that Independence Day is a paid holiday for state and city employees, and that is likely so because these governmental entities follow federal policy.
Independence Day has been a legal federal holiday since June 28, 1870 when Congress passed a law to that effect, according to Amy E. Hefter, a legislative fiscal analyst employed by the city. In an email to 14th District Alderman Tony Zielinski that was forwarded to me by John Manke, Hefter wrote, “Federal law (5 U.S.C. 6103) establishes public holidays for federal employees. Most federal employees work on a Monday through Friday schedule. For these employees, when a holiday falls on a non-workday—Saturday or Sunday—the holiday usually is observed on Monday (if the holiday falls on Sunday) or Friday (if the holiday falls on Saturday).”
The Fourth of July Commission doesn’t avoid Saturdays, just Sundays.
The heat will be off the commission for 11 years. The next time the fourth of July lands on Sunday is 2021.