Privilege Blog

Logical Holidays, Or, Saturday Morning at 7:15am

It’s a long weekend in the USA. We’re celebrating Memorial Day.

I read up on my history. Worth a few minutes of your time.

Originally called Decoration Day, apparently, the holiday began as a way to formally honor all the graves of the Civil War dead. Think back. How terrible to live through a civil war. Battles fought in town squares. Clearing the bodies from the doorstep. Of course as a young country we needed to join in ritual to recover.

But I was thinking that maybe it’s time to evolve the day, formally, to honor all our dead. I mean no disrespect. My father lost his father and his older brother in WWII. I feel for all families with children in harm’s way.

But consider for a moment.

If you deconstruct Memorial Day, it is for people who had the job of soldier, and died doing it. Again, I mean no disrespect, but that is the technical definition. And if you think about it, here in the USA we already have a day for every one with a job. It’s called Labor Day. We also already have a day for veterans of the military, called Veterans Day. We have an Armed Forces Day, for that matter.

I understand we needed Memorial Day when our greatest threat was foreign oppression. When those who died in war were our greatest heroes. But I think that now our greater threats are to the shared ecosystem in which we live, and to the American ideals of opportunity for all.

It might now be appropriate to focus recognition for the military on Veterans Day. We might then extend Memorial Day to all our dead loved ones. We wouldn’t be alone. The Latin culture has Day of the Dead, Chinese and Japanese their ancestor holidays.

It might also be time to stop giggling about Earth Day.

Taking this odd argument even further, if we believe we ought to we honor what affects us and our future most, we could create a new holiday. It’s a logical step. Maybe we could call it Mother Theresa Day. Unlikely, I know. How about National Good Samaritan Day? Or National Public Service Day? National Take Care Of Someone Day?

If we consider the good of everyone living in the United States, kindness and charity would alleviate more suffering than any show of force.

I mean no disrespect. Just noodling on a Saturday morning. Have a nice weekend.

53 Responses

  1. In my family, we never considered Memorial Day as just for the military dead. All the deceased relatives were visited and garden flowers were placed. Of course, we’re originally Southern so cemetery visits were a regular activity regardless of holidays.

    Thoughtful post, and worth considering.

    1. Thank you. I am really interested to hear how in much of the country it is for all the dead.

  2. Quoting the Wikipedia link you provided: “By the early 20th century, Memorial Day was an occasion for more general expressions of memory, as people visited the graves of their deceased relatives in church cemeteries, whether they had served in the military or not.” It seems the day has already evolved. In the “Interpretations” section there is also some indication of the holiday touching on broader themes of individual and collective responsibility. A thoughtful post Lisa. Thank you.

  3. Veteran’s Day is (as you said) for all veteran’s of the military, and a bit more celebratory. I think having a special day, Memorial Day, for all those who gave their lives in service of the country is not an outdated concept. So sad about your grandfather and great uncle. Must have been quite a blow to your grandmother – I can’t even imagine how she recovered from that loss. Coincidentally, I watched the original “From Here to Eternity” last night. It broke my heart watching all those soldiers so eager to kill the “enemy”, and somehow achieve glory doing so. I have never understood, or reconciled myself to man’s cruelty to man.

  4. You have raised an interesting point about the value of these special days. They remind us of our culture, history, and our connection to the world, but in a way that creates celebration out of heritage.

    Although as you point out Memorial Day has informally extended itself to the dead in general, I still believe that formally it should keep its designation as an honor for those who gave their lives in war. Although I honor and commend all veterans, dying in battle is such an extraordinary service that it deserves special recognition.
    –Road to Parnassus

  5. I like the idea of a National Kindness Day. It would be nice to have a little extra reminder that we are all in this together, and should help each other out and be nice to each other. Read to a child, visit an elderly person, help out in a soup kitchen… There’s a lot of giving back we all could stand to do.

  6. I like the idea of remembering, I almost think it’s amazing that the holiday has survived in any form at all. Hope you enjoy the long weekend Lisa!

    xo Mary Jo

  7. Even though you mean no disrespect,I find it most disrespectful. “When those who died in war were are greatest heroes.” What about those DYING in war today? Our son lost 14 of his West Point classmates in two RECENT wars…35 men and women gave their lives just last month in Afghanistan.
    Please, let us keep one special day for those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. They deserve it. We need to remember.

    1. “What about those DYING in war today?”

      Yes, and I’m thinking today about the forgotten soldiers of recent wars who return home alive but who continue to die inside, day after day, until they cannot stand it another minute, finding freedom at last in the act of ending their own lives. I’d like those soldiers to be included in the designation ‘died serving their country’ rather than being marginalized by their psychologist’s DSM diagnosis.

    2. Don’t forget that we can stray to considering threats to our ecosystem as primary because we aren’t occupied by a foreign power!

    3. @Flo – such an excellent point. My brother-in-law runs an organization for marginalized Vietnam vets – these are men who are alive, but living in what is hell for them. Not really alive, somewhere in the “in-between”. And they’re not really considered heroes – more like some kind of wackos. Really beyond sad.

    4. I’m sure we’ve all been touched by at least one soldier who made this decision, I honor it on their behalf, to me it’s continued field bravery, above and beyond. In my case, a former beau, a highly decorated Viet Nam Marine, struggled for years and years, until the day he went out on the Appalacian Trail, completed his personal mission, and was brought back in a bag. Helluva guy. His sister referred to him as “really messed up.” I refer to him privately as serving bravely right up to the day he died.

      I’m not saying this to pile on against Lisa’s thesis. Lisa is in a class by herself, she has my respect no matter what she says or does. I have a soft place for these vets that I carry around every day, but on a weekend like this, I put my flag out and think extra hard of these soldiers who kept serving long after the day they were discharged.

    5. I’m very sorry. I knew this would be controversial. Perhaps I did not put enough thought into it.

  8. The Christian church calendar has a day to remember all those who have died, as you suggest. It is called All Saints Day, and it is on November 1. Halloween–All Hallows Eve–originated in relation to All Saints. The idea was to scare all the ghosts away the night before officially remembering them.

  9. Thankfully, through advances in medicine, many troops lives have been saved despite suffering horrific, life altering, brain injuring, and often limb losing injuries.

    Would your consider Memorial Day a holiday to memorialize the healthy, able bodies they entered the military with, yet lost in war? I don’t know.

    Many people think of this weekend as the weekend for ushering in the ability to wear white and open up the summer home – not that those things don’t have a place in our minds, too. At least your thoughts are about our military.

    I just think there may be a more modern take on Memorial Day than literally honoring only those who lost their lives.

  10. I love the idea of celebrating what is sacred to our society and our Earth. So kudo’s, Lisa !
    As always, a very thoughtful post, which is why we all love you so much. xx’s

  11. I am a Vietnam era veteran as well as a conservationist. I ‘honor’ the Earth with volunteer work. There are people who ‘giggle’ at Earth Day and there are people who are irreverent with regard to Memorial Day. Unfortunately, that’s people.

    I feel that Memorial Day is a holiday that should always have a place as it was meant to be, which I believe, is to honor those who died in the service of their country, as well as honor the families of those who died. Veterans Day is for those who have served, or do serve, in the Armed Forces, and have been, or are, in a position to make that same sacrifice. That is the day I meditate upon the living wounded veterans as well.

    In my opinion, the ‘non-military-related’ loss of loved ones should be celebrated privately. If one wishes to adopt the Hispanic Dias de los Muertos/All Souls Day, it is a good option. I chose that day to celebrate my lost family and friends with fondness and love.

  12. I am a Vietnam-era veteran and a flaming liberal, and I think you are wrong about Memorial Day. Losing a life defending our freedoms is not the same as losing a finger at the chicken plant.

  13. Memorial Day in my family of birth and family of marriage has typically meant long rounds of visiting graves. I like your idea of a new holiday, especially taking Earth Day seriously. I fear that if Good Samaritans had their own holiday that soon we would find a way to trivialize every day small acts of kindness, which “ought” (finger wagging) to be a way of life.

  14. Living in Europe I am not called on to comment on a national U.S. holiday. I do have, however, family members who have served in Afghanistan and there is always the question of loyalty to those who serve even if you are ambivalent about the just cause of their mission. Maybe that aspect and pondering where, whom and what and who for they are fighting in all its complexity would get lost if the definition of the day were made more inclusive?

    Which brings me to another issue I had never thought about: is it better to have a holiday with a very concise theme (like Memorial Day) so people are more guided in their thoughts or offer something very broadly general (like Kindness Day) so that everyone can make their own call? Does a more “modern” spirit prefer the individualistic approach? No idea but I will certainly discuss it with my people. Thanks for the inspiration!

    1. Yes, I wonder. I suppose the larger question is, do we have clear goals in having holidays at all? If so, what’s the best set of principles to observe?

  15. In our area, all the dead are honored on Memorial Day–not just those who have died in war. ALL veterans’ graves are marked with American flags whether they died in war or not, and loved ones’ graves are decorated with flowers. While the origin of the day is noted, the significance has been broadened.

  16. Flo,and Kathy so agree with your points.

    We also in the UK have the same problem with our young soldiers returning limbless,and uncared for by society from Afghanistan, slowly we are coming to grips with this with a charity ‘Help for Heroes’,but the government have been far too slow to help.

    This weekly loss of life is tragic.

    It would not be fair for me to comment on holidays in your country.

    I do so admire the way houses display your flag. Ida

  17. “The Latin culture has Day of the Dead…” “It got swallowed by Halloween, I guess.” Not around here it hasn’t.

    as a native born Californian (in the raisin-y glamour spot call Fresno) who’s lived in the east bay since kindergarten, i’ve been quite aware of the Day of the Dead celebrations in our communities for a good three decades now. I find i take this holiday as a given myself, usually participating in small but meaningful ways. The area around here was a Latin country, of one species or another, for quite a while. (This last fact is a controversial sore spot along my maternal line, as we have Chukchansi ancestors.)

    I think this is part of the reason i have no trouble keeping Memorial Day as a holiday for contemplating the human impact of war. And giving thanks that my brother was able to leave the Air Force by retiring. steph

  18. Lisa — what a great response to my comment. One word says it beautifully. Understood. I appreciate that you host a blog where people can just say what they think without having to flower it up. I try for the same, and it usually produces thought-provoking discussions. Thank you.

  19. Thank you for all of your generous replies and thoughts to the comments. I enjoy it that you take risks at times, and take time to think through the discussion it provokes. One of the best things about your blog!

    1. This is so well said Kathy.

      Lisa opened this essay with a desire to “deconstruct Memorial Day, a day for people who had the job of soldier and died doing it.”

      But there cannot be formal deconstruction without a text, and that’s why I love how this discussion has evolved because as I’m reading the comments, the missing text has revealed itself to be individual memories that are written across the hearts of the loved ones left behind when that soldier died doing his job.

      Lisa’s blog is an island of civility, a think tank, I love coming here to learn from Lisa and from the remarks made by all her commenters.

      Happy Memory Day to everyone…

      1. Flo I think you have it, at least one it. People’s memories of lost loved ones aren’t amenable to logic or deconstruction. Nor should they be. Thank you for noticing the civility. I have to live up to my readers, and I also hate fighting.

  20. Thank you to the soldiers who died to make possible for you to express your opinion. I couldn’t disagree more.

  21. Today I visited an elderly neighbor whose husband and brother were killed in WW II, and yesterday I heard that the 3,000th American had been killed in Afghanistan. I will put out our flag tomorrow in remembrance of all those who gave their lives for our country, even though I have not always agreed with the decision to put them in harm’s way. For me, Memorial Day remains relevant and always will.

  22. My husband put out a new out a big new flag today in honor of Memorial Day. Mostly, we do so to honor my father – an Air Force veteran , now deceased, who served in WWII and every other war/conflict for the next 25 years – and his friends. Later, I watched part of the 2012 Memorial Day Concert on PBS and found the sad stories just too heartwrenching and ended up changing the TV to the Home & Garden Channel for relief.(I’ve been told that I feel too much.) War is awful.

    I currently don’t live near familial graves; however, when I did, our family also visited and put flowers on the graves of our dearly departed.

    I would like to keep Memorial Day as a day for remembering fallen soldiers and veterans who died after serving as well as anyone dear to us who no longer lives.

    Also, I will be wearing a white skirt at tomorrow’s Memorial Day gathering with neighbors:-)

  23. memorial day was never just about war dead in pennsylvania; it was about families visiting all graves and a big family reunion weekend

  24. I have found this thread very interesting. It has been another example of the different ways we all interpret things. Some of us see Memorial Day as one thing and one thing only–and others see it as as an opportunity to honor a broader group of our loved ones. It’s all ok. We can do what we want to do–without necessarily getting permission. That’s one of the things so wonderful about our country. I prefer the broader significance of Memorial Day- -which was the view upon which I was raised. For me, always broader is better than narrower.

  25. My parents always called it Decoration Day even after the name changed and I am old enough to have seen a 100 yr old Civil War veteran parading. Here in Canada, we have Remembrance Day, on Nov. 11. Something about the sere landscape is more in the mood of sobriety and mourning than this fair-weather holiday. I worry that if these observances are lost few will pause to consider the immediate and long term effects of war, and the sacrifices made.

    1. I don’t see it that way Duchesse. I still decorate my great great grandfather’s grave–who fought in the Civil War. We remember them all for their service and sacrifice. The fact that we remember other loved ones doesn’t mean that we don’t remember military sacrifice at the same same time. At least that’s how I see it. Others may see it differently. I find it difficult to not remember my nephew who died at age 22 on a day called Memorial Day.

  26. In 1992 I visited Washington D.C. and wanted to visit a museum where I would learn about the native American culture, Indians and their almost-extinct. Such a museum did not exist. Instead they recommended the museum holocaust memorial museusm. Why look at the own past if you can point with your finger at others?

    1. I was in Washington DC just last week and observed that a museum of Native American culture and history is being built! It’s about time!

  27. We do need another holiday or 2. I would like to see a national holiday in every month of the year. We have plenty of things to celebrate, so why not!

  28. I think you are clueless and thoughtless however I do understand….the privileged rarely serve their county with military service.

    A. Green

    1. I might be clueless, but I’m not thoughtless. Oh yes, and my grandfather and uncle died in WWII. Also there’s a Civil War sword on one of family walls. Someone I’m related to wielded it. We owe each other, all of us, precise and robust thinking.

  29. Not for this yankee girl, thanks though. New perspectives brighten the mind, but it’s my roots that anchor me deeply to the founding of three local towns and the blood shed that comes with. Maybe two days, one for ancestry the other for the decorated.

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