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The story of Somers Day and Cup Match holidays

Somers Day was observed for nearly two decades before Parliament created the two-day Cup Match holiday in 1947.

The first known public commemoration of Sir George Somers’s 1609 landing of the Sea Venture occurred in 1929.

On July 28, 1931, Somers Day was observed for the first time as an official holiday, a one-off event.

Five years later, Somers Day became a public holiday by an act of Parliament along with Boxing Day, Victoria Day, the King’s Birthday and Armistice Day.

These facts, unearthed by researcher LeYoni Junos, add a new twist to the debate over whether to rename Somers Day, observed on the second day of Cup Match, Mary Prince Day, in honour of the former slave, turned abolitionist writer.

It is commonly believed that when Cup Match became a two-day public holiday in 1947, Somers Day was tacked on to the observance.

Somers Day was declared a public holiday first, in 1936, and was incorporated into the two-day Cup Match public holiday in 1947.

Cup Match was said to have been started by the Friendly Societies to commemorate the emancipation of slavery on August 1, 1834, but this cannot be confirmed by historical accounts.

Friendly Societies did commemorate abolition with marches and church services in the years immediately after emancipation, and later with annual picnics.

The first Cup Match game was played in June 1902, not August.

Since 1947, Cup Match has taken place on the Thursday and Friday before the first Monday in August.

This schedule may have more to do with the date of the UK bank holiday, which the British military in Bermuda were observing at least from August 5, 1912 — the first Monday in August.

Somers Day was initially observed on July 28, the actual date of the wreck of the Sea Venture. But before 1947, Cup Match dates varied from year to year.

Somers Day observances, spearheaded by the St George’s Historical Society and the Bermuda Historical Society, would sometimes be celebrated with a pageant, and sometimes not. Over the years, Cup Match became more popular and began to supersede Somers Day events.

Cricket fans would call in sick to attend the game, but some white-owned businesses also gave employees time off.

But the occurrence of Cup Match and Somers Day around the same period, with one day being a public holiday, began to create confusion.

In 1945, in what appears to be a rare instance of interracial co-operation in segregated Bermuda, the Chamber of Commerce and the two cricket clubs met to find a solution to “stabilise” the Somers Day holiday in combination with Cup Match.

In 1947, after much debate, Parliament established the two-day Cup Match public holiday.

Cup Match Day would be observed on the Thursday before the first Monday in August, with Somers Day observed on the Friday.

In 1999, the first day was renamed Emancipation Day and the second day remained as Somers Day. But the two days together would be known as Cup Match.