Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Remembering What We’re Honoring


I believe that fiddling around with traditional holidays in order to make three day weekends was a mistake.  This has led to a diminishment of the individual holidays; confusion over what it is that is being honored, and co-opting by businesses for their own selfish gains.
Take the holiday, Memorial Day, just passed as a case in point.  Originally begun by slaves as a day to honor Union soldiers who were fighting for the preservation of the Union and abolition, it has evolved over the century plus since then.  The fallen from the United States’ subsequent wars have been honored on Memorial Day.  In many communities the day is celebrated as Decoration Day.  On Decoration Day friends and family decorate the graves of their ancestors and loved ones who have passed on.  Through all of these traditions there is one common factor—those being honored are dead. 
.  Memorial Day is becoming a Springtime Veterans’ Day as people us social media to thank the veterans in their lives, living and dead, for their service.  That cousin who served in Vietnam, but is still living ought to receive our thanks any day of the year, but his or her special day is on Nov. 11th, one of the few holidays that hasn’t begun a yearly migration around the month. 
When holidays were celebrated on a particular day, regardless of where it fell during the week, it seemed that the day held more meaning.  During the 1950s the meaning of the holiday was taught in school.  Today law dictates that schools have assemblies for Veterans’ Day and MLK Day, but the others are more like—well, meh.  George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, arguably our two most important presidents, don’t have their own days anymore, having been mushed together into Presidents Day and “celebrated” on a Monday for your long weekend and shopping pleasure.
When I was a child, on the rare occasion that it fell on a Friday or Monday families often took the opportunity to take a trip over the long weekend, but most years the day fell during the week or on a weekend day without extending the weekend.  In the case of Memorial Day ceremonies were held at cemeteries and flags placed on the graves of those who died fighting for the country’s freedom.  Over time flowers and flags were left for all veterans and for extended family members.  One thing that was never intended by those slaves during the Civil War was for Memorial Day to be about sales at car or mattress dealerships.
This moving things around has not only diminished the importance of the day, it has confused many folks about exactly what is to be honoredI am sure that if we returned to the traditional dates for National Holidays retailers and the tourist industry would put up a fuss.  I email retailers who send me sales notices for either Veterans’ or Memorial Day and have even gotten a positive response from Amazon.  What if we planned our three day weekends around some destination that tied into the holiday and made a conscious effort not to buy, buy, buy as a way of honoring our national heroes?  How awesome would that be.


Jo said...

I totally agree with you. Memorial Day, or, Decoration Day as it was called in 1950's/1960's New England, was a day to honor our fallen soldiers and family no long with us. There was a parade through town to the cemetery. Once there, Taps was played, a prayer was prayed, and the National Anthem sung. It was a solemn day, but also a happy one, as all took the time to remember stories and good times with those gone. I miss the heartfelt celebration of those lives. Thank you for saying what I had no words to express.

Stephanie Frieze said...

Jo, I think you expressed yourself perfectly!