The U.S. prides itself on being a country of freedom for all, yet, when Memorial Day rolls around, we act like it’s time to turn up the grill and open up the pool rather than remember those who lost their lives in the name of the freedom we possess. This holiday has become the “unofficial” beginning of the summer which we mark on our calendar as a time to gather for the first big party of the summer. However, that was never its intended purpose.
Here’s a quick history lesson. At the end of the Civil War in the spring of 1865, so many American soldiers perished that there was a need to create national cemeteries to lay all of these servicemen to rest. According to History.com, on May 5, 1868, General John A. Logan — leader of the Northern Civil War veterans — called for a nationwide day of remembrance on May 30. This day was meant to “decorate the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion,” as Logan put it. This day became a community get-together where towns and cities across the U.S. would spend the day decorating the graves and saying prayers. Decoration Day, as it was called, slowly transformed to the Memorial Day we know today.
In 1968, Congress decided that Memorial Day should be held on the last Monday in May and in 1971, it was declared a federal holiday. For years, this day stood for a community coming together to memorialize those they lost during a time of struggle and those that defended their country for the rights they have now. These national cemeteries would be lined with flags, flowers and fireworks shows, but as the years have passed the focus has switched to the fireworks side of it.
These cemeteries are still lined with flags mainly through the work of private organizations and graveyard maintenance crews, so the essence might still be there but the people, not so much. The average American will be at a party, taking advantage of some retail sale or even just enjoying the day off. But, we need to remember those who gave us a chance for that special three-day weekend. Not all of us have a family member who fought in the civil war or in the military in general, but that doesn’t mean we can’t honor them.
As Americans we have a strong pride of our country and under the circumstances of our political climate, it feels like we should stick together more than ever. What better way to do that then to honor those who gave us the freedoms we uphold so strongly in our constitution? You may not saying spend the day in solace and mourning, but why not raise a glass to those who fought for us to have the right to a backyard barbecue on a Monday? Or, at the very least, keep them in your thoughts as you enjoy this day of relaxation in the beginning of the long-awaited summer?