Kudos to the government for finally reforming the territory’s public holidays to better accord with the Virgin Islands’ own history and culture.
The changes unveiled last month are comprehensive and well-conceived, and they represent an important step toward reclaiming the territory’s history from hundreds of years of colonialism.
They are also a long time in coming.
Such reforms were first recommended in a 2001 report compiled under then-Deputy Governor Elton Georges, but no action was taken for nearly two decades in spite of repeated promises from successive governments.
Last year, a new committee was formed to review the previous report, and its members agreed with the great majority of the earlier recommendations. And last month, the government quietly released a new list of public holidays that was in keeping with most of the suggested changes.
Territory Day, for instance, was rebranded as Virgin Islands Day, St. Ursula’s Day as Heroes and Forefathers Day (here, we would have preferred “foreparents” or “ancestors” in order to include women).
The official celebration of Commonwealth Day was cancelled altogether, and “Festival” Monday through Wednesday became “Emancipation” Monday through Wednesday.
But one of the most important reforms didn’t come from the review committees’ suggestions: a new holiday commemorating the 1949 protest march and the 1950 restoration of the Legislative Council will be held for the first time on Monday, Nov. 8.
The commitment to regularly celebrate this important event in VI history is truly a watershed moment.
As the territory works to obtain greater autonomy during the coming constitutional review, the importance of all the changes cannot be overstated. Indeed, the holiday reforms are exactly the sort of step the territory should be taking to lay the groundwork for what we hope will be its eventual independence.
Our only qualm is the government’s uncharacteristically quiet rollout of the reforms, which should have been trumpeted loudly from the rooftops.
But no matter. Each new holiday will provide a chance for celebration as it arrives in the coming months.
Over the coming year, the government will have a unique opportunity to lay the DNA for how each will be observed. To that end, the planning should start soon and involve the entire community.
Meanwhile, everyone should mark their calendars for the following dates: July 5 for Virgin Islands Day; Aug. 2-4 for Emancipation Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday; Oct. 18 for Heroes and Forefathers Day; and Nov. 8 for the commemoration of the Great March and restoration of the legislature.
Each of these new public holidays is an occasion for major celebrations and collective national reflection.