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Boston Marathon attack - Patriots' Day explained: Civic holiday that holds a special place in Bostonian hearts

History is part of Boston's identity in a land that defines itself on its modernity

Patriots’ Day always held a special place in Bostonian hearts. Both Massachusetts and Maine mark the third Monday in April with a civic holiday to commemorate the battles of Concord and Lexington on 19 April 1775, the first time America’s colonists hit back with force against the Kingdom.

Close to 2,000 British troops tried to destroy the militias’ weapons stores, but were driven back to their garrison in Boston and besieged. Eight years and 70,000 deaths later America’s War of Independence was over, the colonial masters defeated. The great American essayist and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson described the opening salvo in the war as “the shot heard ‘round the world”. And that shot will be for ever associated with Boston.

The city has always proclaimed its role in the revolution and its pride at those early American patriots - history is part of Boston’s identity in a land that defines itself on its modernity. The Freedom Trail bisects the city, running from the USS Constitution on the Charles river up to Bunker Hill and then across to Downtown, its opposite end on Boston Common just minutes’ walk from Boylston Street and its now-bloodstained pavements.

Along its length are embossed brass plaques that mark the route, Boston wearing its past as a badge of pride. Indeed the city’s American football team, one of the founders of what would become the NFL, was called the Boston Patriots until they moved away to nearby Foxboro in the early 1970s. They are still the Patriots, only now their home is not the city but the region, New England.

Until the attack, Patriots’ Day meant two things to Boston – Marathon Monday and the Red Sox playing at home. The American football season is months away so the baseball team tag along with the celebrations, their game once timed to finish as the runners were heading through the middle of the city. Everything would then stop for the oldest marathon in the world in one of the oldest cities in America. Patriots’ Day will always be about Boston’s past, but from now on not one that anybody will care to remember.