Let’s talk about a good old-fashioned American holiday. In America, we do holidays by taking the day off work (unless you work in customer service) and participating in as much recreation as possible! In the warm months, that includes camping, boating, hiking, buying furniture, and everyone’s favorite, going to the movies and out to dinner. At least that’s how we roll here in Utah, but most likely every state is different depending on what kind of recreation there is in that state…I’m lucky in that Utah has pretty much everything outdoorsy you’d ever, ever, ever want to do. Except Mount Everest and polar ice. And jungles. But everything else.
American holidays are also somewhat arbitrary. I’m pretty sure the meaning of Labor Day is almost entirely lost. Columbus Day is so ambivalent only banks and government workers actually take it off. Martin Luther King Jr Day, or Civil Rights Day, is going quickly in that direction, unfortunately, and I’m willing to bet a lot of people wouldn’t be able to tell you which presidents’ birthdays Presidents’ Day falls between. But if there are two national holidays in the US that have kept their meaning throughout the few centuries America has been around. First is the Fourth of July, obviously the most important as that’s the day we declared independence from Britain, and the second is Memorial Day.
Memorial Day is there to commemorate the dead, especially the dead who died fighting for freedom in any of this country’s wars, but we honor all our dead. It’s always the last Monday in May, which for many makes it a great opportunity to break out the summer traditions of barbecuing and boating or whatever outdoors activities one prefers.
But my family is pretty traditional about Memorial Day. In fact, it is one of the only holidays where we have solid traditions (that and Christmas).
We head down to Provo Cemetery in Utah County where we have three grandparents, and aunt and uncle, and a great aunt all buried. We put flowers on their headstones and take a family picture in the cemetery (I have noticed my family doesn’t deal with death the way many families do. But it’s kinda nice). Then we head down the road to a Chinese restaurant, same one every year for 20+ years, for dinner.
My great aunt who is buried in that cemetery served in WWII. Which I must brag, is pretty kick-awesome, seeing as how she’s a woman back in that day.
And I’m glad I have someone in my family to honor as a fallen soldier. Because that is the primary reason for Memorial Day. An English friend recently remarked to me how incredible it was how much support America gives its military. Which was surprising to me because I know a lot of people out there don’t want to support them. But I absolutely believe in supporting soldiers, no matter what, because they are out there risking their lives out of duty, obedience, and faith that they can make the world better. The leaders we elect may not always lead soldiers into the best chosen conflicts, but the soldier always goes and does his job, and that is admirable by all accounts.
I have a picture of my Great-Aunt LeJeune playing with some lion cubs hanging on my wall. I don’t think I have what it takes to serve in the military like she did, but in other ways she motivates me to never miss an opportunity to try something new or become someone better. And every year on Memorial Day I an be reminded of that by seeing her name on the wall of soldiers buried in Provo, and the Captain title on her headstone. Which is a pretty special thing.