Saturday, April 3, 2010

Need a Holiday? (Part II)

Yesterday was Good Friday, the Christian holiday that celebrates the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and tomorrow is Easter, which celebrates rabbits and chocolate (and also, the resurrection of Jesus). In much of the Christian world, Good Friday and Easter Monday are official holidays. Here in the land of separation of church and state, neither is a national holiday (although Christmas still gets a pass). Some places do observe those days as local holidays however.

By a coincidence of this year's calendar, this Monday is also everybody's favorite Chinese holiday, Tomb Sweeping Day (with the Dragon Boat Festival coming in a close second). Tomb Sweeping Day, officially know as the Qingming Festival, is a day set aside to remember and celebrate one's ancestors, such as by cleaning up around their grave sites, as well as to enjoy the beginning of spring.

On Monday, a majority of the world's population will be on holiday including many countries with significant Christian populations plus China and other nations influenced by Chinese culture. Here in the United States, Monday is not an official holiday, but it is a holiday of another type, a secular sports-oriented one. In recent years, football, particularly the NFL, has overtaken baseball as this country's de facto national pastime, and Super Bowl Sunday has become our unofficial national sports holiday. Prior to this change, the country's primary sports holiday was not a cold Sunday in January or February, but a warm Monday in early April with the first pitches of the Major League Baseball season.

Monday will also be the day that the NCAA will crown its Men's Division I Basketball Champion following the conclusion of the three-week tournament known as the Big Dance. The annual tournament culminates with the winners of the four regional brackets meeting in the Final Four, which starts tonight with the two semifinal games. Last year's tournament was a relatively straight-forward affair with few major upsets. The 2009 Final Four was played in Detroit, Michigan, and featured two number one seeds, North Carolina from the South region and Connecticut from the West, plus Michigan State, the number two seed from the Midwest bracket, and Villanova, the number three seed from the East. The Tar Heels, the overall number one seed of the tournament, were the eventual winners of the tournament.

This year's tournament has been vastly different. Like every year, I filled out a bracket for the tournament. My general rules for filling out brackets are to pick one of the number one seeds to win it all, since one of them generally does, and to avoid picking too many upsets since it is unlikely that I will pick the correct ones. Despite not being comfortable with any of the number one seeds, I picked three of them to go to the Final Four along with third-seeded Bayor from the South region. In my championship game, I had Syracuse, the number-one seed from the West, over Kentucky, the number one seed from the East. All in all, a very straight-forward bracket. Unfortunately, this tournament has been anything but straight-forward. The overall number one seed Kansas lost in the second round to an upstart Northern Iowa team. Syracuse went down to number five seed Butler in the third round. The Bulldogs have gone on to make the Final Four which will be played this year in Indianapolis, Indiana, where the Butler campus is located.

The third number one seed to go down was Kentucky which survived until the regional finals before losing to second-seeded West Virginia. The only number one to make this year's Final Four is Duke, incidentally the only number one seed that I did not pick in my bracket. Tonight, the Blue Devils will match up with the Mountaineers of West Virginia in the late semifinal game while the early game will feature Butler against fellow number five seed Michigan State from the Midwest bracket. El, who is a fan of the Butler Bulldogs, and I plan on watching their game at our favorite sports bar which doubles as our local wine and beer store.

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