Every year, someone will make the faux pas of wishing others a happy Memorial Day. We have to remind ourselves that they surely mean well.
Most federal holidays involve a three-day weekend, but on the last Monday in May, please don’t wish anyone a “Happy Memorial Day.”
While some may not notice the error, for others, it will be painfully obvious.
Memorial Day is one of the most somber holidays we commemorate each year. While you may well hope someone has a good day, wishing someone a happy Memorial Day sends a message that can appear quite tone-deaf.
Memorial Day is a day intended to honor those who have died while serving the country. The National Conference of State Legislatures estimates that figure to be about 1.1 million. That includes all conflicts, from the Revolutionary War through the War on Terror.
We can hope we won’t have any more wars to add to that list.
It began after the Civil War.
Memorial Day traces its origins to the 1880s, though several cities, including my home base of Charleston, South Carolina, claim their observance was the first official one. Ask anyone in Charleston and they will tell you there is no dispute.
A “May Day” ceremony on May 1, 1865, in Charleston, was organized by recently freed slaves. Joined by missionaries and area teachers and their students, they cleaned up a mass burial ground at the Charleston Race Course. That site became the final resting place for more than 250 Union prisoners of war.
The former slaves started the effort to pay tribute to the Union army for helping liberate them. The day became the first-ever celebration of their own version of “Independence Day.”
Memorial Day was first formally known as Decoration Day and first marked in 1868. Originally, people used the day to honor Union soldiers who died during the Civil War.
Over time, the tributes broadened to include all of the nation’s service members who died during all wars.
The first use of Memorial Day came in 1882. It didn’t become an official holiday until 1967. Congress didn’t formally set its date as the last Monday in May until 1971.
Don’t think of it as another day off.
A three-day weekend is a three-day weekend. Businesses commercialize the day by offering sales. People flock to beaches and swimming pools for sunshine and fun in the water. Families gather for cookouts and time together.
In every way possible, we as a nation go on with our lives spending the day enjoying time away from the office.
Too few of us spend the day remembering the fact that the men and women who have died while serving the country helped make such celebrations possible through their sacrifices.
For those families who’ve lost loved ones, the last thing they want to hear is “Happy Memorial Day.”
It’s not a day to be happy about. But it is a day to show gratitude for those who we lost and those who suffered those losses in their own families.
I hope we’ll all find time over Memorial Day to pause long enough to remember them.