My trek to Utah from Virginia brought more culture shock than some of my travels abroad. A major observation was how Utahans celebrate holidays. I had never seen houses and yards all out decorated for Halloween nor Christmas lights that stayed lit through January. Fireworks on July 24 were also a new concept. But when I saw how Memorial Day was celebrated in our state I cringed. The last weekend of May had grocery stores stocked with mums and cemeteries blanketed in flowers and flags. Wow, so many American war victims buried in Utah!?? I had no idea!
Somehow, in Utah, Memorial Day is promoted as a day to remember passed-on loved ones on a start-of-summer holiday. I confess, my education was rooted in a state where 95% of American history took place, but shouldn’t we all be celebrating the same holiday and honoring the same heroes? And, learning the same history lessons?
As our local Channel 4 broadcast: “Memorial Day signals the start of one of the tastiest times of the year: BBQ season.” Nice thought, but they are taking the “Christ” out of Christmas. Is that what Memorial Day is all about: a day off of work, outdoor grilling and remembering our dead friends and family members for a quick moment?
The origin of the Memorial Day holiday is simple but loaded with courage and bravery. Three years after the Civil War ended (that would be 1868) “Decoration Day” was established on May 30 to decorate the graves of Union soldiers killed in the Civil War with flowers, wreaths and American flags. After World War I the commemoration was changed to include men and women who died in all American wars or military action, and in 1971 “Memorial Day” was established as a national holiday observed on the fourth Monday of May. This holiday is not to be confused with Veterans’ Day in November, which commemorates the service of all US military veterans, living and dead.
Don’t get me wrong; I have lost loved ones that deserve to be remembered by myself, my children and generations to come. But that is not why we enjoy a three day weekend each year to mark the beginning of summer. Maybe we should consider initiating a new holiday where we remember our non-war-hero loved ones who have passed on. In Mexico they call it “The Day of the Dead” and it is celebrated on our Halloween. I am certainly not opposed to having another three-day weekend. But let’s not combine it with Memorial Day.
The brave men and women who died on the bloody battlefields so our country could offer freedom and hope to future generations deserve our respect and honor, and in this small, small way we set aside one day out of the entire year to remember and give thanks for their ultimate sacrifice. Maybe every day should be Memorial Day, remembering who we are honoring and taking a moment to thank God for the courage and bravery our war heroes offered, ultimately enabling our generation to enjoy our vast freedoms. “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13
Natalie Haught Six