Can You Measure a Holiday?

On July 8, 1776, Philadelphians heard the first public readings of the Declaration of Independence against a backdrop of ringing bells and band music. The following year the city chose July 4th to celebrate the country’s birthday.  Interest in recognizing the special day spread to other towns and was commonplace by the close of the War of 1812. Congress established Independence Day as a holiday in 1870. In 1938 Congress earmarked the day as a paid holiday for federal employees.

Happy Independence DayIn June of 1826, Thomas Jefferson, who was quite ill, wrote these words about document on its 50th anniversary: “May it be to the world, what I believe it will be ... the signal of arousing men to burst the chains ... and to assume the blessings and security of self-government.  That form, which we have substituted, restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. ...For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them."

Today, Americans from state to state mark the holiday with parades, fireworks, picnics, outdoor concerts, and other special events. In fact, there is a “Top Ten” list of best destinations in the U.S. to pay homage to the Fourth. Choices include Key West, Florida; New York City, San Francisco and Mackinac Island, Michigan.

Did you know you can also measure the complexity of the dates of holidays? Variables include looking at the way a holiday’s date is characterized on the Gregorian calendar and considering definition variations to determine the Kolmogorov complexity or the size of the algorithm needed to describe it. Trends have been gleaned from this type of analysis. Independence Day is considered to have the simplest definition along with New Year’s Day as the dates for both holidays are clearly specified.

Whether you have some fun with this brain teaser, have a destination celebration planned or choose to enjoy a cookout with family before heading out to watch the local fireworks display, take a moment to remember the words of Thomas Jefferson. Happy Fourth.

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