I know this makes two military-themed posts in a row, but there are a lot of patriotic holidays in May. For the last week or so, people have been posting about Memorial Day. In a country where this happens, it is nice to know that so many people are concerned about the meaning of this day.
History of Memorial Day
Memorial Day came into being as Decoration Day in 1868, just after the Civil War. This day was set aside to – you guessed it – decorate the graves of fallen fighters. Decoration Day was renamed in 1950, and in 1971, Memorial Day became a federal holiday. There are beautiful ceremonies all over the US to honor our war dead. The Wreath Laying at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery is one of the most famous acts of remembrance. I also just learned that the Navy marks Memorial Day with 21 gun salutes at noon.
What does Memorial Day mean for us today?
The meaning of Memorial Day has gotten muddled. For some, it is the beginning of swimming pool season. For others, it means that there will be a road trip involving infrequent bathroom breaks and in-laws. Don’t even get me started on Memorial Day sales. While I love a three-day weekend, Memorial Day is a somber day. I am not a veteran, and war is not within my realm of experience. This Washington Post article does an excellent job of explaining how the holiday can affect veterans. Memorial Day may also be difficult for families who have an empty place at their table this year where a service member should be.
If you are fortunate enough to enjoy the extra time with family, I hope that you will offer gratitude to the people who made it possible. When the kids won’t stop whacking one another with various electronics and your neighbor’s grill smoke is burning your eyes out of their sockets, just think about how amazing these seemingly mundane things are. There are some moms, dads, brothers, and sisters that never made it home. They never got to enjoy the day with their families. Honor the people we’ve lost by treasuring the ones we have with us today.
On May 30, President Obama has called for Americans to come together in prayer for peace at 11 AM local time. If prayer is not in your practice, then there is also a perfectly secular National Moment of Remembrance at 3 PM local time that might call to you. I will never say, “Happy Memorial Day.” I wish you a day filled with peace and mindfulness.