When temperatures dropped from chilly to cold, football season was in full swing, and the few leaves remaining were brown and hung on by a shriveled stem, a stir began spreading through the people where I grew up in semi-rural Pennsylvania.
Days ticked forward slowly, each early sunset moving us one night closer to the number on the calendar people had circled for months.
Yes, it was anchored by Thanksgiving, but it wasn’t piles of turkey, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and pumpkin pie that got those juices flowing, it was what the Monday that followed signified.
Opening Day of whitetail season.
Admittedly, I’m not a hunter. Many of my family and friends either are or have been, but living where I grew up meant you didn’t need to don the hunter orange vest to be part of the season.
Whether it was due to a supportive local government or the vast number of absences that happened every year, there was no school the Monday after Thanksgiving, a tradition I assumed was statewide, if not universal, until going to college and meeting people who grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs, most of who barely knew any hunters and were appalled at the idea that school would be cancelled so students could sling a rifle over their shoulders and march through the woods in hopes of shooting a deer.
But it happened and it was a undoubtedly one of those things you don’t realize is special until it’s gone, and in today’s world, it seems traditions like this are going away faster than we realize.
Pennsylvania changed the first day of whitetail rifle season to the Saturday following Thanksgiving back in 2019, a controversial move that was supported by some and strongly denounced by others. I’m not here to weigh the pros and cons of a Saturday vs Monday regular firearm season opening, but it begs the questions of how long the few school districts that still take Monday off will continue to do so given the students and teachers who hunt now have the opportunity to head out on Saturday.
Will “Deer Day,” as it’s been called, go the way of snow days thanks to the virtual options rolled out over the pandemic? Will this be done away with like so many holiday parties, Halloween parades, teacher versus student volleyball games, and early dismissals for big sporting events?
Every single thing I just mentioned, plus who knows how many I couldn’t think of, were the glue that kept schools together, giving everyone a shared culture to experience that went past learning math, science, and history. Subjects in school are important, obviously, and that for sure needs to be the focus, but doesn’t it seem that as shared joys have been removed so has the sense of unity? Again, I’m no expert, but maybe the few things that everyone got to experience together were more valuable than we thought and their absence is at least part of the reason so many schools are in states of utter disarray right now.
As more and more entertainment is found online, it’s hard to imagine a better way to get kids experiencing the great outdoors than a day specifically carved out of the school calendar to get in the woods, or heck, even to go play a game of two hand touch with your classmates if you don’t hunt.
While it may not fix every divide and problem society has today, a good start would be to keep and bring back some of these eclectic but valuable traditions that seem to be going by the wayside.
So give the kids their snow days. Bring back class Olympics.
And most importantly, close schools on the first day of deer season.