We’re coming to the end of May. It’s hard to believe. Time just seems to pass either incredibly slow or unbelievably fast these days. But here we are on the verge of leaving the fifth month of 2020 and on its last Monday comes one of the most communal and engaging celebrations in America that seems rather portentous right now — Memorial Day. This is when we pay tribute to the brave men and women who have died serving in the U.S. military. We usually do this with parades, cookouts, visiting cemeteries, and families and friends getting together on the Monday off to enjoy a little downtime. It’s one of our favorite reasons to celebrate and this year, we wanted to take just a few moments to go beyond ways to commemorate and look at how it all began.
The divided fall…
The Civil War ended when General Robert E. Lee surrendered on April 9, 1865. When the dust settled, America was left with the greatest loss of life in any U.S. war up to that point. Because of the number of military dead, national cemeteries were created. It is said that one of the first celebrations was just one month later when freed slaves honored those who died with a day of mourning and tribute. Called “First Decoration Day,” it commemorated those lost with a procession around the Washington Race Course and Jockey Club in Charleston, South Carolina — a seminal Union battle spot — with 10,000 people including white missionaries.
Over the next few years, families would come together in the spring to decorate and place flowers upon the graves of their fallen loved ones. Soon, communities around the country established their own unique days of mourning for those who gave their lives in the Civil War and on May 5, 1868, General John A. Logan, the head of the Northern Civil War Veterans organization, proposed May 30th as a national Decoration Day to pay tribute to all soldiers lost in the conflict. The date was chosen because it didn’t commemorate any particular battle, and on that day, General James Garfield — who would go on to become president in 1881 for only four months before being assassinated — held a celebration at Arlington National Cemetery where 5,000 attendees decorated the 20,000 graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers.
Divisions (finally) united
By 1890, all of the Northern states celebrated on May 30th, however, the Southern states chose to commemorate their fallen in their own way and on their own days. This practice continued until World War I when it became clear that America was once again faced with giant losses in a brutal conflict. Paying tribute to all of our fallen heroes no matter the war was now all that mattered, and the decision to make Memorial Day a true U.S. period of mourning and remembrance took hold, with the decision to make the last Monday of May into a three-day weekend so that federal employees could take part.
Since then, all those who have given their lives for the wars America has fought are remembered and celebrated during this last Monday in May. It ends spring and reminds us of what we have lost in order to keep what we still have.
In 2020, Memorial Day comes on May 25th. And while the “how” may be revised and reworked for current needs, the who, what and why we celebrate hasn’t changed. Come Monday, there will be plenty of unique and interesting ways to share your personal Memorial Day — national cemeteries are open with restrictions so you can decorate the graves of the fallen, pass-by parades are planned, virtual hangouts and social distanced cookouts are being prepared. Once again, we are discovering our own “how” in highlighting and remembering special moments that matter to us all. Whether they are shared across the country or something meaningful in our personal lives, we are finding our way to make the most of and continue living our lives.
During our research on Memorial Day, we discovered something we thought was pretty special and thought you could add it to your repertoire of unique “hows” for not just that day but whenever you need it. All it takes is a few seconds and costs nothing: every Memorial Day, a national moment of remembrance takes place at 3:00 local time (whatever that is for you) across the U.S. Now, it seems we’ve heard that somewhere along the way, but we honestly had forgotten. And, so…
Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, whether it’s today, tomorrow, this Monday or every single day, at 3:00 your time, close your eyes, take a deep breath, and remember —
You are worth fighting for.