This coming Friday initiates the Memorial Day holiday weekend in the United States. It’s actually celebrated on the last Monday in May. By the end of the week, people will be wishing everyone “Happy Memorial Day” or “Have a great Memorial Day weekend.”
While I certainly appreciate the good wishes and hope that the three-day holiday IS a good one, it gives me pause that we can be so upbeat about the observance. After all, Memorial Day is a day of remembrance of those who died while serving our nation.
On the one hand, it saddens me that we party in remembrance of those who gave their lives protecting our nation and its interests. On the other hand, it certainly is worth celebrating that our fallen soldiers did not die in vain. Our nation and its citizens remain free and the opportunities to be an individual and to achieve a successful and meaningful life are as viable today as during those first days after our nation came into being—all because of the sacrifices of those who gave their lives protecting our freedoms.
I can’t help wondering, however, if the true meaning of Memorial Day isn’t lost on our everyday citizens. I also wonder how many school children can even articulate why we celebrate Memorial Day (or Labor Day or Veterans Day for that matter).
To clarify, Memorial Day is a day of reflection of those who sacrificed their lives and died while serving in the US military. Veterans Day, however, is truly a day of celebration honoring all US armed service veterans. Maybe a bit of history will help us understand the difference.
Memorial Day, which was originally called Decoration Day, was officially proclaimed on May 5th, 1868 and first observed on May 30th of that year when flowers were placed on the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. This day of remembrance was set aside to commemorate those soldiers who gave their lives in the American Civil War.
There is rich history on record regarding how the fallen were remembered in the Union territories as compared to Confederate territories. But the common thread was that the graves of the fallen soldiers were decorated on a certain date each May and a “dinner on the ground” often followed the decoration ceremony.
By the early 20th century, Memorial Day evolved into a more general expression of remembrance of all the deceased who had served in the military, and in 1971 Memorial Day became an official federal holiday.
In the late 20th century, however, Memorial Day evolved into a day of picnics and mass market bargain shopping. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for that. But a little reminder that Memorial Day is both a time to reflect and to celebrate is in order.
We reflect on the sacrifices of military personnel and the loss to their families even as we celebrate that the price of those losses results in continued freedom and a stronger nation.
Lastly, I want to share an interesting bit of information regarding how to fly our flag on this special day. Tradition states that on Memorial Day the flag is raised briskly to the top of the flagpole and then slowly and solemnly lowered to half-staff. It should remain at half-staff until noon. At that time, it should again be taken to full-staff for the remainder of the day.
The reason for this ritual is that the half-staff position remembers those men and women who gave their lives in the service of their country. At noon, their memory is celebrated by the living who resolve not to let their sacrifices be in vain and to continue the fight for liberty and justice for all.
Enjoy your holiday weekend! Those who are no longer with us made that possible!
Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!