The Meaning of Memorial

Memorial Day,  originally called Decoration Day, is a national holiday that is observed on the last Monday of May. This year, this holiday will be celebrated on May 28, 2018. On this day, America recognizes and honors the lives of soldiers who died in the U.S. military. This anniversary came into observance following the Civil War and became a federal holiday in 1971.

Americans today discern this day by holding family gatherings or by visiting military cemeteries and memorials. However, many Americans mark the twenty-four hours as an unofficial start of the summer season. Some citizens insist that this day is not celebrated how it was intended to be and they feel as if this holiday has lost its original meaning. This statement is not completely inaccurate considering the fact that most citizens choose to spend the holiday on a short getaway or a shopping spree instead of commemorating the deaths of millions of soldiers. 

The shift from ‘properly’ to ‘improperly’ commemorating this holiday began in the late 19th century. In 1873, New York composed Decoration Day as a holiday to give the workers the day off, and by 1890, many of the Northern states followed in New York’s footsteps and applied the holiday the in the same manner. As a result, Congress declared May 30 as a national holiday in 1890 (in 1968, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act switched this holiday to the last Monday of May). This new and abnormal addition to the workers’ schedules gave them a lot of free time, opening opportunities to do the things that they enjoyed.

It soon became commonplace for workers to split half of Decoration Day visiting cemeteries and spend the rest of the day to relax. Nevertheless, some did not enjoy this growing concept of Memorial Day. The Grand Army of the Republic, an organization composed of Unionists, noted their disapproval in their twenty-third annual session in 1889, stating “whereas, there is a growing tendency to to make Memorial Day an occasion for festivity and indulgence in games and sports wholly foreign to the purpose of the day and the sacred spirit which ought to characterize it, and… indulgence in public sports, pastimes, and all amusements on Memorial Day as inconsistent with the proper purposes of the day, and that the duty of vigorously opposing such practices be urged upon Department and Post Commanders.”

Despite their plea for immediate change, no one listened and the celebratory holiday prospered on. The idea of a joyful Memorial Day may have contributed to the holiday’s lasting presence and popularity with the public. As the years go by, Memorial Day is becoming less and less about what it was intended to be, especially for the ones who have no empirical connection to the military.

But even though the holiday is no longer commemorated as it used to be, there have been a few positive results as Memorial Day celebrations have brought families, friends, and Americans together. Whether the holiday means going shopping or memorializing loved ones, the holiday still serves its purpose to unite Americans all over the country. 

Priscilla Chu
staff writer

Graphics: Amelia Chen

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