Governors Proclamations

Nurses Hall in the State House is all decked out, chairs lined up before a podium, people milling around eyeing the spread of fruit, baked goods, and soft drinks for the reception to come. The cameras are rolling as Gov. A. Paul Cellucci descends the stairs, scribbles his signature, then hands out pens as souvenirs.

A bill signing? No. It’s a gubernatorial proclamation declaring September 9, 1999 to be “Grandparent Recognition Day”–the first ever, he notes. “I don’t know what’s taken us so long to do this,” says the governor.

Nothing relieves the daily tedium of government like a little pomp and circumstance. And the steadiest flow of pomp out of the governor’s office comes in the form of proclamations.

These ceremonial parchments take note of events great and (mostly) small in the life of the Commonwealth and its citizens. The earliest proclamation the governor’s office can find any trace of is from March 11, 1862, when Gov. John A. Andrew proclaimed “Thursday the third day of April next to be observed throughout the Commonwealth as a day of public humiliation, fasting and prayer.”

The governor’s office gets about 800 requests for commemoration each year. Staff members sort through the requests, some of which are thought to be more appropriately satisfied with a citation or letter from the governor. But even after culling, Gov. Cellucci handed out 640 of these declarations last year, proclaiming Alzheimer’s Awareness Week, Safe Boating Week, and Homeless Animals Day, among others.

Even if the governor were to refuse to indulge his constituents, he would still be forced by law to do a great deal of proclaiming. Some 140 proclamations have been written into statute as annual events. Each year, the governor is required to declare January 8th “New Orleans Day” and the last Saturday in June “Winthrop Beach Awareness Day.” February 28th is “Kalevala Day,” in celebration of a Finnish fraternal organization. May 1st is “Loyalty Day,” which offers Massachusetts citizens “a special opportunity to express their love and dedication to the United States and its principles.”

The calendar gets crowded, particularly for longer observances. “American Indian Heritage Week,” “Visiting Nurse Association Week,” and “National Family Week” all have to share the third week in May.

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October is particularly beset by commemoration, being simultaneously “Pro-Life Month,” “Lupus Awareness Month,” “Head Injury Awareness Month,” and “Polish-American Heritage Month.” The first week of the month is both “Employ Handicapped Persons Week” and “Employee Involvement and Ownership Week;” the second is “Home Composting Recognition Week.” Luckily, “American Education Week” can be in either October or November. Even individual days get jammed in this busy month. October 8th is both “Town Meeting Day” and “Leif Ericson Day.”

For one select group, however, a single dedication on the calendar is not sufficient. Public servants get served on both “Public Employees Appreciation Day,” the first Wednesday in June, and “Public Employees Week,” the first week of August, which many no doubt observe in the best possible way: by going on vacation.