What Is Patriots' Day? Your Introduction to Boston's Greatest Holiday

Joon LeeStaff WriterApril 17, 2017

A giant flag covers the Green Monster left field wall during the national anthem before Game 1 of baseball's American League division series between the Boston Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays, Friday, Oct. 4, 2013, at Fenway Park in Boston. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

Before it became the title of a less than great movie starring Mark Wahlberg, Patriots' Day was known foremost as a day that captures the spirit of Boston more accurately than any other day of the year. People across Massachusetts wake up early on the third Monday of April to watch the Boston Red Sox play at 11 a.m., root on friends and family running in the Boston Marathon and celebrate the history of one of America's oldest major cities.

Historically, Patriots' Day marks the anniversary of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the first battles of the American Revolutionary War, and is a state holiday in Massachusetts, Maine and Wisconsin. The history that underlies the holiday marks a point of pride for many in the Boston area, where re-enactments of the battles occur annually.

"Those of us who live here and grow up here take pride that the American Revolution began here," says Gordon Edes, Red Sox team historian. "Talk about an organic beginning to war. You had militiamen coming from all of the neighboring towns coming to Concord and Lexington lining up and facing the strongest empire in the world at the time, the British army."

The Red Sox have been scheduled to play at Fenway Park every Patriots' Day since 1959, with the 11 a.m. start time beginning in 1968. The early start time assures fans at the baseball game get out early enough in the day to cheer on Boston Marathon runners. Fenway Park, located about a mile from the finish line of the marathon, marks a prime location to watch people run by.

Charles Krupa/Associated Press

"I can hardly conceive of [the Red Sox] not playing on Patriots' Day," Edes says. "It's a given that on Patriots', it's all about watching morning baseball before watching the marathon. That's what makes this such a quirky holiday in New England."

At the heart of Patriots' Day is the Boston Marathon, the oldest, most important and most iconic marathon in America. Elite runners come from all around the world with dreams of winning the race, but locals are generally most excited to see their friends and family participate.

"Everyone knows someone who is running this year and every year," says T.K. Skenderian, the communications director of the Boston Marathon. "From the community involvement to the seven-year-old passing out oranges to the 70-year-old running for their best time, competing to win their age group, all of them take an enormous sense of pride in the event and the city. In many ways, this race doesn't just represent the best parts of our city and the people who live within it. It represents the best there is in mankind."

Mary Schwalm/Associated Press

The race has taken on extra weight since the tragic events of the 2013 marathon, when terrorists set off two bombs at the finish line killing three people and injuring hundreds of others. In 2014, the field of runners grew from 26,839 to 35,671, the race's second-highest total ever, and the race now accepts up to 30,000 runners every year. Athletes must meet time standards corresponding to age and gender in another marathon to run in Boston.

But beyond watching the best long distance runners in the world run through Boston, the best moments are when the crowd picks up a runner who's struggling, and watching that runner push through and continue forward. Or when that friend who you know has been training and raising money for charity—the race accounted for nearly $31 million combined in 2016—for nearly a year finally crosses the finish.

Elise Amendola/Associated Press

"It's Boston's best weekend," Skenderian says. "People take this race so seriously because they've had to run another marathon damn fast to get in. Eighty percent of the field is qualifiers, and 20 percent are invitationals raising funds."

At its core, Patriots' Day represents a tribute to the city of Boston, its history, culture and people. For one day a year, longtime Bostonians, children and college students pack the streets with one shared purpose: celebrating the city they live in.

"The Boston Marathon is far more than a 26-mile race," Edes says. "It's a community street carnival. It's a welcome holiday, a harbinger of spring. It's all of those things."

"There aren't many traditions that survive from generation to generation, and this is one that has."