It’s Memorial Day! How did you honor our nation’s military heroes who sacrificed their lives during war?
Wait a minute. Wasn’t that last weekend? Didn’t we celebrate the unofficial start of summer, I mean Memorial Day, by throwing some burgers and dogs on the grill and kicking back a few cold ones?
Like many Americans, I have concerns around Memorial Day and how it appears to have lost its meaning. Originating during the Civil War era, Memorial Day or Decoration Day as it was called then was intended to be a national day of remembrance for our nation’s soldiers whom had fallen on the battlefield. For over 100 years this day of observance and decorating of soldiers graves occurred on May 30th.
In 1971, the Monday holiday phenomenon was established with the enactment of the 1968 Monday Holiday Law. Memorial Day began being observed on the last Monday in May and the three day weekend that marks the unofficial Start of Summer was born.
According to the Congressional Research Service Report for Congress on Federal Holidays, at the time Congress voted on the Monday Holiday Law a majority of congressional members believed creating the four Monday holidays (George Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Columbus Day and Veterans Day) would provide “substantial benefits to both the spiritual and economic life of the Nation.”
I suspect that although the perception was that the Monday holidays would enable Americans to enjoy more family and leisure time that the impetus for this legislation was largely commercial and capitalistic in nature. Midweek holidays disrupt the work week and increase the costs of doing business for a variety of reasons including decreased productivity, increased absenteeism on the day or days before and after the midweek holiday, and increased heating and cooling costs of large industrial and office buildings. Monday holidays and three day weekends result in an increase in spending at the gas pump and retailers across the country, an economic boon as Americans hit the road for mini-vacations or the backyards and beaches for grilling and cookouts.
If we accept that impetus for this legislation was largely commercial and capitalistic in nature it should not be surprising that the result of the Monday Holiday Law would be a commercial and capitalistic outcome. The focus of any of the Monday holidays has ultimately become less about the reason we have the day off and more about having the day off and a three day weekend. Let’s face it: who doesn’t love a three day weekend?
As we as a nation lose focus on the reason for the holiday, confusion over what the holiday represents results. For example, how many people think Memorial Day is for thanking active military or veterans? That sounds more like, well Veterans Day. Not that it is bad to express gratitude to current and former military members any day; Memorial Day was just not designated a national holiday for that specific reason. Over time, Memorial Day Weekend has come to be a time we decorate the graves of our family members whether or not they served in the military and died in battle.
Memorial Day Weekend has developed into a time for vacations that start the summer like a weekend trip to the Hamptons, Cape Cod, Block Island, Hilton Head and others. A time to light the grills, relax and enjoy the company of our loved ones whether we head off for the weekend or stay local.
My family is no different than others, we visited family plots on the Sunday before the Monday holiday and spent the Monday holiday relaxing around my sister’s pool, the kids playing and swimming, the adults laughing, talking and drinking and we enjoyed our first official barbecue of our all too short New England summer.
Memorial Day for us became about the food and the family time together. While my sister grilled, I made a Flag Cake Trifle, macaroni and cheese and a tie dyed cake (because my niece, Jenny wanted one; it became a collaboration as I baked the cake and Jenny decorated it). My niece Gianna decided that she wanted to join me in making deserts both patriotic themed and not for our Memorial Day gathering. She, her sister Jenny and their friends made emoji decorated sugar cookies; red, white and blue yogurt parfait; and red, white and blue chocolate covered strawberries.
Some pictures of our Memorial Day:
We had a great weekend, spent some time in the kitchen with the girls and friends, and enjoyed some fun family time. Not a bad thing, in fact a very good thing.
The problem is that we like countless other Americans did little or nothing to honor our nation’s military dead and recognize what the day off is about. Changing a Facebook cover photo or posting a flag or message on any social media platform, I believe is not quite enough. It is too simple. We could change back to observing Memorial Day on May 30th; perhaps that would help return the focus on the reason for the day. That might work except that in the last four decades we have grown quite accustomed to Memorial Day being observed on the last Monday in May and the resulting three day weekend that marks the unofficial start of summer. We aren’t going to give that up.
What is the solution then? I’m sure there are many. I propose that we get both in some manner. There are countries that observe a Family Day holiday, let’s recognize the last Monday in May as a national holiday known as a Family Day holiday or dare I suggest as the Start of Summer holiday. And on May 30th, we return to the intention of Decoration Day or Memorial Day and give as a national holiday or even half day (close government offices, businesses and schools at noon) to honor our nation’s military personnel who have paid the ultimate sacrifice of their lives given on a field of battle to secure our freedom and way of life.
Memorial Day was changed once. I see no reason why it couldn’t be changed again to honor history and meet the needs of present day America.