You can tell to which generation someone belongs by whether she or he remembers when Memorial Day annually was held on May 30, regardless of what day of the week that date occurred.
In 1862, a Civil War general, John Logan, proposed that May 30 be designated a day of remembrance throughout the land.
It was 45 years ago (1971) that Memorial Day for the first time ceased being observed exclusively on May 30. It instead became part of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, to be held on the last Monday of May, as enacted by Congress three years prior (1968).
It just so happens that this year’s Memorial Day 2016—next Monday—lands on the commemorative date of May 30. That calendar coincidence presents an opportunity to recall another bygone characteristic of “Memorial Day”—it used to be called Decoration Day, for reasons worth remembering.
National Cemeteries Created
The unprecedented number of fatalities in the Civil War—the cause of more deaths than any conflict in American annals—necessitated the creation of our first national cemeteries, according to History.com.
By the late 1860s, a ritual evolved in which the graves of the Civil War’s fallen were decorated by locals in towns across the country. The show of respect and gratitude paid homage to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country and fellow citizens.
Therein lies the primal sanctity of a communal remembrance whose profound meaning too easily is buried by the more mundane imperatives of our mechanized society. The singularity of Decoration Day falling on May 30 for the first 100 years has yielded to the cookie-cutter convenience of a generic three-day holiday weekend, which was created as a perk for federal employees.
Waterloo, N.Y. Is Memorial Day Official Birthplace
The upstate New York town of Waterloo first observed Decoration Day in 1866, and 100 years later it was declared by the federal government “the official birthplace of Memorial Day.” The reason it was so honored, as reported by History.com, is because Waterloo was among the first to hold “an annual, community-wide event during which businesses closed and residents decorated the graves of soldiers with flowers and flags.”
The solemnity of that early American Memorial Day is muted in our day by the sound of retail sales trumpeting “Happy Memorial Day!” As oxymorons go, that one is hard to beat and even harder to justify when reading about the birth of the holiday.
I encourage any business to promote itself with thematic sales events, but perhaps in this case a more fitting declaration of our independence is “Salute Memorial Day!”
Let’s do whatever we can to keep it a secularly holy day; to remember warriors by decorating their burial places; to publicly thank neighbors and strangers who endured the ravages of war; to salute them all, as they parade along your main street and wave the flag of freedom we never for one second should take for granted.
On a personal note: Thank you, Dad (aka “Sarge” in WWII), for all that you gave your family and your country.
Media and marketing specialist Bruce Apar is Chief Content Officer of Pinpoint Marketing & Design, a Google Partner Agency, where he is a partner with Pinpoint CEO and Google Adwords Certified Professional Bruce Mishkin. Apar is a weekly columnist for Halston Media newspapers and the PennySaver, and a writer for Westchester Magazine. Under the banner of APAR All-Media, he is a consultant for Hudson Valley events and organizations. Follow him as Bruce The Blog and Hudson Valley WXYZ on social media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (914) 275-6887.