I’ve been asking everyone I’ve run into over the last few days what they’re doing for Memorial Day. The answers have been, almost unanimously, “Nothing.”
One friend said,
“I forgot it was Memorial Day.”
This is not a public shaming piece. If you look at media, you get a clear picture of Memorial Day as a day for BIG SALES! 50% OFF! But no one I asked said s/he was going shopping.
The headline in my local newspaper read,
“Cemeteries, campsites, pools gear up for Memorial Day”
Cemeteries get equal billing with campsites and pools. After all, in the United States Memorial Day weekend is the “unofficial start of summer,” as I see everywhere. The fact that Memorial Day was created to remember dead war veterans can get lost amid barbecues, weekend driving trips, and swimming pool openings.
Scroll down if you’re eager to see the one simple and quick thing you can do to recognize Memorial Day on Monday.
I find it interesting that some holidays stay focused and others drift away from their origins. Mother’s Day, which we just celebrated, is a holiday most people wouldn’t dare forget or ignore, lest they be accused of not loving their mother.
(But see the complications I mention in my piece on Mother’s Day cards.)
But Labor Day, coming up, has mostly lost its celebration of those who labor and instead bookends Memorial Day as the unofficial end of summer.
For those outside the US — and many inside — others have explained the origins of Memorial Day in Decoration Day, decorating the graves of fallen soldiers after the Civil War, and its expansion as Memorial Day to remembering veterans of all the wars after World War I. Many of those who decorate graves now place flowers on the graves of any ancestor, family member, or loved one.
My husband grew up in a small town, and he and his sister still have flowers placed on the graves of their parents every Memorial Day. I grew up in a small town far away from any of our relatives, and Memorial Day for us meant a backyard barbecue and swimming.
As I said, no public shaming here. We celebrate as we were raised, for the most part, and the media today bury American Legion ceremonies at cemeteries under swimming pool hours and department store ads. When I opened a newspaper’s video billed as “Veterans talk about meaning of Memorial Day,” I first had to close an ad for “50% off [unnamed newspaper] sale just for Memorial Day!”
Many have written more eloquently than I possibly could about the significance of Memorial Day and the importance of “celebrating” it properly (it’s hardly a day to celebrate, with recognition of those who died in wars). I was especially moved by Benjamin Sledge’s piece on Medium “The Gut-Wrenching Effect of Remembrance and Loss on Memorial Day.” (This piece might be locked until May 29 for readers who aren’t members of Medium.)
The Gut-Wrenching Effect of Remembrance and Loss on Memorial Day
Losing friends in combat, Trump blaming his generals for service member deaths, and the long-term effects on our…
Another powerful but different testimony came in a brief message about the meaning of Memorial Day on pbs.org, with its quotations from Abraham Lincoln and its message that “there is immediacy in our sorrow; the wounds of war are new again.”
Meaning of Memorial Day | National Memorial Day Concert | PBS
Learn about the meaning of Memorial Day and why it is a day of remembrance, honor, and tribute to those who sacrificed…
And its list of the number of dead from each war:
Fatalities from U.S. Wars and Conflicts
American Revolution (1775–1783). 4,435
War of 1812 (1812–1815). 2,260
Mexican War (1846–1848). 13,283
Civil War (1861–1865). 620,000
Spanish-American War (1898–1902) 385
World War I (1917–1918). 116,516
World War II (1941–1945). 405,399
Korean War (1950–1953). 36,574
Vietnam War (1964–1975). 58,220
Gulf War (1990–1991). 383
Afghanistan War (2001-present). 2,381
Iraq War (2003–2012). 4,500
As important as this holiday is for our nation, for recognizing the military dead — as significant as it could be to everyone, for remembering all of our dead loved ones — Memorial Day will probably remain a day for swimming pools, barbecues, or a few flags and flowers on graves. Or nothing.
If you want to memorialize Memorial Day in some way, you might join me in The National Moment of Remembrance, as established by an Act of Congress in 2000 and described by the US Department of Veterans Affairs.
The one simple and quick thing you can do to recognize Memorial Day on Monday:
At 3 pm your time on Memorial Day, pause for just a minute of silence “to remember and honor those who have died in service to the nation”
If you like, remember and honor all those who have died in wars in any nation.
Or remember and regret that so many men and women have been killed in war.
But Memorial Day has become one of those holidays that don’t mean much to most people, and I’m pretty confident that what most people do will win out over others saying what people should do.
Maybe if Hallmark and Blue Mountain started making and promoting Memorial Day greeting cards, we’d feel obligated to send a card to the veterans we know. Memorial Day could join the ranks of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.
Maybe if the stores convinced us that we had to exchange gifts on Memorial Day — flags and flowers, for example — Memorial Day could join the ranks of Christmas.
Maybe if we gave out candy, like Halloween.
Or, most possible perhaps, maybe if we gathered the family for a big dinner, with each of us saying why we’re grateful, Memorial Day could join the ranks of Thanksgiving.
Maybe that’s what the family trips, barbecues, and even big shopping days are — celebrating that we can travel, join family and friends, and even shop.
So if we’re gathering together for a barbecue, or spending the day at the swimming pool, or even shopping with friends, maybe we could pause, just for a minute, at 3:00 and notice what we’re grateful for.
And then shop, swim, eat, and laugh with family and friends. Or do nothing!
Because we can.