Why Do We Celebrate Memorial Day?

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When baby boomers were growing up, Memorial Day was always celebrated on May 30th. In my town, the celebration started with a parade, that frequently included military personnel, both active duty and veterans. The parade wound up in the town’s Memorial Park where those who have died in military service were appropriately and solemnly honored. Afterwards, many of us gathered around a radio to listen to the broadcast of the Indianapolis 500 while others attended family picnics. There was always something to do at the local Veteran’s of Foreign War (VFW) post or the American Legion post. Hopefully, winter was gone and warm temperatures were on the horizon. We were kids.

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Now, baby boomers are adults and many are senior citizens. Many of my friends and I share the perspective that Memorial Day is another of the many American holidays that have become highly commercialized. My goal is not to get opinionated or political in this blog, but I am going to give all of you something you can share with your children and grandchildren about how it was when we were their age. Please remember how it used to be.

This is the real meaning of the holiday (as posted on time.com, Tessa Berenson, May 23, 2015)

It’s easy to forget what Memorial Day actually means while you’re sitting by the pool and looking ahead at summer vacation—but the day signifies much more than just a three-day weekend.

Memorial Day is a solemn day of remembrance for everyone who has died serving in the American armed forces. The holiday, originally known as Decoration Day, started after the Civil War to honor the Union and Confederate dead.

It’s unclear exactly where the holiday originated—Charleston, S.C., Waterloo, N.Y., Columbus, Ga. and other towns all claim to be the birthplace of the holiday. The event in Charleston that may have precipitated the holiday offers poignant evidence of a country struggling to rebuild itself after a bloody war: 257 Union soldiers died in prison in Charleston during the Civil War and were buried in unmarked graves, and the town’s black residents organized a May Day ceremony in which they landscaped a burial ground to properly honor the soldiers.

In the years following the Civil War, Memorial Day celebrations were scattered and, perhaps unsurprisingly, took root differently in the North and South. It wasn’t until after World War II that the holiday gained a strong following and national identity, and it wasn’t officially named Memorial Day until 1967.

The final event that cemented the modern culture of Memorial Day in America was in 1968 when Congress passed the Uniform Holiday Act, designating Memorial Day as the last Monday in May rather than May 30, as it had previously been observed. This ensured a three-day weekend and gave the day its current status as the unofficial beginning of summer, mixing serious reflection with more lighthearted fun.

7 thoughts on “Why Do We Celebrate Memorial Day?

  1. You may be pleased to know that the traditions of Memorial Day, in the town you remember, continue unchanged. The program remains exactly the same as it was those many years ago. I go every year and I still get chills when I see the men who have served passing by and receiving cheers from the crowd. Thanks for reminding us of the true meaning of Memorial Day.

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  2. Hey Fred,

    Very nice post and one certainly needed to remind us of the true meaning of this day. My son Scott(the Marine) participated in a march called “Carry the Load” this year to call attention to the true meaning of Memorial Day. It started in DC and ends in Dallas today.

    Hope all is well and Honor Memorial Day!

    John

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  3. Many people have lost the reason we are to REMEMBER “the courage and sacrifices” of the past that allow us our incredible nation of freedom—why we are to HONOR “those living military, police, fire personal and other first responders who choose this life without hesitation and why we CELEBRATE each single day we wake up without fear the day may end up as our last because a car bomb might go off as we go to the grocery store or to church or someone might come into our homes and kill the male members of our families or that we will be hauled off like cattle to be slaughtered.

    Our “celebrations” are not bad things. We come together for picnics and swimming and races and games in TRUST and UNSPOKEN THANKSGIVING—because WE CAN!—because of that THEY DID and DO FOR US ALL!!

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