Monday, May 27, 2013

Not Just Another Monday

I read something yesterday,* about Memorial Day, reminding me that it wasn’t until 1971 that Memorial Day, along with several other holidays, was changed from a specific date to a particular Monday, allowing for three-day weekends. The author hypothesized that something of the meaning began disappearing with that change.
Fallen Warriors Memorial--Houston
from their Facebook page

I started thinking about that, for other holidays as well. Presidents Day was one; we no longer celebrate the birthdays of Lincoln and Washington on their actual February birthdays, learning about them in school classes and elsewhere. Instead we have a holiday for family vacations, a brief college break, an extra shopping day, during which we have pretty much nothing in the way of traditional ceremony reminding us of those two extraordinary presidents.
Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, celebrated on a Monday in mid-January, came after the change, so has never been truly connected to his actual birthday. Having a holiday for a single American, no matter how influential, seems odd when we only bunch our greatest, and all, presidents some Monday in February. It’s better when the day is referred to as celebrating equal rights or something—something worth teaching about in schools. But again, it’s a day off from schools, with very little in the way of traditional celebrating.
We tend to keep traditions alive better when they are date specific, rather than a convenient Monday. Christmas tends to be full (overfull, at times) of traditions. The Fourth of July, Independence Day, could hardly be celebrated on a different day, and it does retain traditional parades, fireworks, and brass bands in addition to summer cookouts and family time together.
Thanksgiving is on a changing date, but always the fourth Thursday of November; it remains full of tradition. It can be anywhere from a single day off during the week to a four-day or even seven-day vacation. Easter is day specific as well, a certain Sunday after the spring equinox. There’s enough meaning attached that we get together for traditional family celebrations whether we get time off or not. So it’s possible, even without specific dates. But the three-day weekend does seem to have lessened, rather than increased, our ability to pay attention to the purpose of special days.
What if we had kept Memorial Day on its original May 30th? Would we remember it is as something much more than the first good cookout day of summer? Would we meet together somewhere in reverence, at a cemetery or monument, and tell stories of fallen heroes? Would we remember how solemn this day is, compared to July 4th, and compared to Veterans’ Day? I don’t know. And I don’t suppose it’s likely we’ll go back.
But here in Texas we say, “Remember the Alamo,” and of the current war against radical Islamists who attacked us 9-11-2001, we say, “Never forget.” Memorial Day was officially instituted after the Civil War, to honor soldiers who had fallen on both sides, so we would never forget their sacrifice that brought us toward full freedom, and all the soldiers since who have made that ultimate sacrifice.
On a personal note, 32 years ago, on Memorial Day, after I had decorated graves at the cemetery with my family, I drove the hour home and went to a church activity—and met Mr. Spherical Model. [When he tells it, he says we met in a dark bathroom, which, while accurate, begs for a lot of explanation. You’ll have to ask him sometime.] So the day has an added, happy reason for remembering.
We plan to see grandkids, have some Texas barbecue, and enjoy the Monday off. I expect many of you will do the same. But I hope we can all also do some grateful remembering.
*The link had video/audio of three mournful but beautiful pieces of music honoring fallen soldiers, worth listening to.

No comments:

Post a Comment