For those who are new to the states, Memorial Day is an annual holiday honoring soldiers who have perished while serving in the U.S. armed forces. It's essentially the American version of ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day.
It all started in the late 1800's, shortly after the Civil War. It was clearly a response to the deadliest war in American history. Back then it was called Decoration Day in reference to "decorated" soldiers.
By the late 1860's and early 1870's Americans across the country began holding tributes to the fallen soldiers. The first officially recognized holiday was in Waterloo, New York in 1966. It was here that the federal government declared the town as the official birthplace of Memorial Day. Why there? Waterloo had decided to host the first annual, community-wide event.
On May 5, 1868, General John A. Logan, leader of an organization for Northern Civil War veterans called for a nationwide day of remembrance to happen at the end of May. By 1890, all the Northern states began to hold their own ceremonial events in honor of Memorial Day, or at the time it was still "Decoration Day."
Fast forward a bit to the current year. How do you plan to celebrate Memorial Day weekend this time around? Hopefully by enjoying the great outdoors and appreciating everything you have. If you're in Washington D.C. you can view the National Memorial Day Concert which takes place on the west lawn of the United States Capitol. If you're not in D.C, you can see the event on PBS or listen on NPR.
The Indy 500 is also traditionally held during Memorial Weekend, since 1911. Later in the day, NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600 takes place, a tradition since 1961.
Many scholars have cited Memorial Day as a sort of secular "civil religious holiday." In other words, it's treated as a sacred event yet it has no specific viewpoint. It's a ritualistic holiday in the vein of Veterans Day, only with more pomp.
In celebration of those who have lost their lives, it's important to express gratitude. It's perfectly okay to criticize the military from a political standpoint, but it's also important to honor the soldiers who fight. Let's blame the top brass for all of the planet's ills while celebrating the men and women who choose to fight. Sound like plan?
This Memorial Day, hold your loved ones tightly and watch a Ken Burns documentary.