Today (Friday) initiates the Memorial Day weekend and already I’m getting good wishes for a happy weekend. At least a dozen times since I awakened this morning I’ve been greeted with “Happy Memorial Day” or “Have a GREAT Memorial Day weekend”. While I certainly appreciate the good wishes and hope that the long holiday weekend 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 interest. While, on the other hand, I realize 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.
I can’t help wondering, however, if the true meaning of Memorial Day hasn’t been lost on our citizens. Has the meaning behind Memorial Day and Veterans Day simply blended together to become a blurred dual celebration of our armed forces? I also wonder how many school age 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 in times of war, while Veterans Day is truly a day of celebration honoring all armed service veterans. Maybe a bit of history will help us understand the difference.
Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, was officially proclaimed on May 5, 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. Thus, Memorial Day was a day set aside to commemorate those soldiers who gave their lives during 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 were decorated on a certain date each May and a “dinner on the ground” often followed the ceremony.
By the early 20th century, Memorial Day evolved into a more general expression of memory for all the deceased who had served in the military and a reason to gather and reflect. By the late 20th century, however, Memorial Day seemed to have evolved into a day of picnics and mass market bargain shopping.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for that. I just want to send a little reminder that Memorial Day is both a time to reflect and to celebrate. We reflect on the sacrifices of our military personnel and the loss to their families when a life is forfeited for the greater good, but we can also celebrate that the price of those losses result in a continually strong nation that offers its citizens freedoms that others can only hope for.
In closing, 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 staff and then slowly and solemnly lowered to half-staff. It should remain at half-staff until noon and then raised to full-staff for the remainder of the day. I’m told that the half-staff position remembers those men and women who gave their lives in the service of our country. At noon their memory is celebrated by the living who resolve not to let their sacrifice be in vain and to continue the fight for liberty and justice for all.
Do enjoy your holiday weekend! Those who are no longer with us made that possible!