Pioneer Day has always had extra special meaning to me. Pioneer Day is a holiday for both the State of Utah and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and is celebrated widely in the State and commemorated by members of the Church all over the world.
Pioneer Day was always a family day when I was a child. Our family often celebrated it by going to the mountains. We would arise very early in the morning – usually to the sound of dynamite blowing up a tree trunk – to milk the cows and feed the animals. Then we would haul one load of hay to the pasture for the cows to munch on all day. We would gather picnic supplies and climb into our old truck. On this special day our mother gave us white “Bakers Bread” and puffed wheat, two foods we seldom ate.
I also celebrated Pioneer Day in Primary. Our meetinghouse sat on a large piece of land, maybe an acre. I remember dressing up in pioneer-type clothes, decorating bikes and wagons, and walking around the property. As we walked we sang a pioneer song. “Pioneer children sang as they walked and walked and walked….”
There were only a few days each summer that my family did not work in the fields. Those days were usually Independence Day, Pioneer Day, and Labor Day. Of course, we never worked in the fields on Sundays.
I am very proud of my pioneer heritage as seven of my eight great-grandparents crossed the plains with the pioneers, and the eighth crossed a few years later on the train. I have often wondered how members of the Church without pioneer ancestors feel about Pioneer Day, and I appreciate the counsel of the Brethren who remind us that there are pioneers today.
The word pioneer is both a noun and a verb. As a noun, it means to go ahead of others to explore or settle a new area, as in the Utah Pioneers. As a verb, it means to be the first to use something, a new method, activity, or area of knowledge. By this simple definition, all converts to the Church are pioneers.
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf was reared and joined the Church in Germany. He had no ancestors among the Utah Pioneers, but he still loves and honors “the faith and courage of those early pioneers of the Church. My own ancestors were living an ocean away at the time. None were among those who lived in Nauvoo or Winter Quarters, and none made the journey across the plains. But as a member of the Church, I claim with gratitude and pride this pioneer legacy as my own.
“With the same joy, I claim the legacies of today’s modern-day Church pioneers who live in every nation and whose own stories of perseverance, faith, and sacrifice add glorious new verses to the great chorus of the latter-day anthem of the kingdom of God” ("Faith of Our Father" Ensign, May 2008, 70).
Today I honor all pioneers, my ancestors and others who crossed the plains to Utah as well as those who are forging new paths today. Happy Pioneer Day to all of you!