The Cult of Dr. King

The third annual observance of the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. passed happily enough in the nation's capital, with the local merchants unloading their assorted junk into the hands of an eager public. It is hardly surprising that "King Day," observed as a federal legal public holiday since 1986, has already become part of the cycle of mass indulgence through which the national economy annually revolves. Christmas itself, commemorating an event almost as important as the nativity of Dr. King, has long been notorious for its materialism and appetitive excesses, and a visit to any shopping mall will alert the consumer to the next festal occasion on the public calendar and instruct him in what ways and to what extent he is expected to turn out his pockets in its celebration. Since Dr. King, wherever he is now, has been promoted to full fellowship in the national pantheon, it is to be expected that he too must perform his office in keeping the wheels of American commerce well-greased.

What is remarkable about the King holiday, however, is that, alone among the 10 national holidays created by act of Congress, it is celebrated in other ways that are pretty much in keeping with its original purpose. While the other nine festivities are merely excuses for protracted buying and selling, three-day weekends with an attractive compadre, or orgies of eat-and-swill punctuated by football games, only the third Monday in January...

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