Traditions and reenactment of the historic Mormon pioneer trek.

July 24 of each year is a state holiday in Utah, the location of the headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). The celebration is called Pioneer Day and commemorates the day when the pioneering Mormons, in search for their new settlement, finally arrived at the Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847.

But the festivity is not only celebrated by those belonging to the LDS church. All state-wide activities are open to everyone to honor the earliest migrants and all other American pioneers that came from Utah like Bishop Daniel S. Tuttle.

Brief history

One of the major settlements of the earliest Mormons in America was located at Nauvoo, Illinois. Because of the persecution experienced by the Mormons during those times, and the violence of the Civil War, the early Mormon community, headed by Brigham Young, was forced to move west. It was an arduous 18-month/1,300-mile journey mostly by foot and handcart. It is said that one out of ten did not survive the harsh winter and living conditions during their travel. Though barren, the Salt Lake Valley was the perfect place for the Mormons to grow their religion. Many Mormons from other parts of America and England followed suit. And by 1850, the community reached 11,380 in population.

The earliest unofficial commemoration of Pioneer Day was on July 24, 1849, two years after the Mormon’s arrival at the valley. It was eventually termed as Pioneer Day in 1857 but celebrations were cut short because of the civil war. Holiday celebrations in 1886 and 1897 were tainted and greatly subdued due to issues of polygamy. The biggest celebrations to date are considered those in 1947 and 1997, marking the centennial and sesquicentennial of Pioneer Day.

Holiday activities

Most offices and businesses throughout Utah are closed during the holiday. There are street parades, fireworks display, fairs and food festivals, athletic competitions, and other fun-filled activities. Celebrations are considered bigger at Salt Lake City itself. For Mormons, attending religious services at sunrise is a must. There are also groups and members of the LDS Church who wear 19th century outfits and reenact the historic pioneer trek.

Significance

For Mormons like Holly Welker who is also a direct descendant of the pioneers, Pioneer Day left a vital mark in the religion’s history. Welker says “I am proud of and humbled by the actions of my ancestors. They abandoned the familiar and strode bravely into the unknown, confident that doing so would enable a better future. They gave up possessions, relationships that no longer nurtured them, ideologies they had outgrown. They did the hardest thing they could, both because they could and because they had no other choice.”

But for Mormon writer David Mason, July 24 is considered the “real” Independence Day for Mormons “Mormons renounced the country (America).” He adds that “the Mormon founders reinvented Americanism when they stared back into the face of the nation those same Fathers had founded and said, ‘You’re not the boss o’ me.’ For the new Utahns, the country they’d abandoned was a lawless pit of corruption and degeneracy that had abrogated the ideals of its founding and sold itself to capitalism and mobocracy.”

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