Memorial Day is one of my two favorite holidays--the other is Thanksgiving--but it's a day which seems to lack definition for many. Celebrated on the last Monday of May, Memorial Day began after the Civil War as a day to honor the Union war dead. The celebration expanded after World War I to honor all war dead.
The ambiguity around the holiday stems from the way people celebrate this three-day weekend. If you check the event listings in your local paper, chances are you'll find few events linked to honoring America's war dead. The day has come to signal the unofficial start of summer, meaning that many use it as a weekend for grilling, outdoor activities, and a visit to the lake or beach. It also historically is a weekend when families visit gravesites to remember loved ones and to decorate a grave. That's why you'll also hear the day called "Decoration Day."
The day has its share of controversy. The Veterans of Foreign War, among others, advocates returning the day to May 30, the former date when Memorial Day was celebrated until 1971 when the government made this federal holiday part of an annual three-day weekend. Each year, legislation is introduced by U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye, of Hawaii, for a return to the original date--he and other veterans organizations feel that the placement of the date on this last Monday has undermined the true meaning of the holiday.
Why is this day so important to me? Like Thanksgiving, Memorial Day is intended to be a day of reflection and for giving thanks. So, please be sure to stop and give thanks today to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country, and for those who have served to preserve and protect our Union.