Saturday, May 28, 2011

No More Marching on Memorial Day?

Memorial Day has long been my favorite U.S. holiday. Sure, the 4th of July has more flash to it (literally and figuratively), and yes, it’s our nation’s birthday, so there’s that. Back in my school days, Labor Day was always fun because it was the last hurrah before the school year started, and these days it kind of kicks off the countdown to the winter holidays. But Memorial Day is its own level of special, not least of which is because it’s intended to honor those veterans who have served our country, which is why I’m devastated at the absolute lack of Memorial Day parades here in the land of the A.T.L.

Let’s talk about some of the great aspects of Memorial Day.  First, whether or not you acknowledge its raison d'ĂȘtre, Memorial Day kicks off summer. You have to admit that no matter the weather after Memorial Day, and no matter the true date that summer begins (June 21 this year, for those of you who are blissfully unaware of this), your mindset changes after Memorial Day to a more carefree, if-I’m-not-currently-on-vacation-at-least-I’ll-take-more-time-to-daydream-about-vacation setting.

Also, Memorial Day affects fashion. We are allowed to wear white pants after Memorial Day as well as white shoes without being fashion heathens. I dig the white pants and admit that I wear them outside of the ascribed “appropriate time frame.”  I am not, however, a fan of the white shoes unless they’re sneakers; perhaps they should be banned altogether.

Memorial Day encourages exercise and togetherness. Think about it. Most pools and beaches open on Memorial Day weekend. Therefore, Memorial Day weekend opens up more opportunities for kids and families to get outside into the fresh air and to play around and to spend time together. It’s a time for kids to learn to swim and then to practice and practice and practice even though they think they’re just playing and playing and playing.

Finally, and most importantly, Memorial Day is a time to remember those who fought for and continue to fight for our country. Whatever your politics, it’s a day to put those aside and simply to honor the men and women who felt and feel it their duty to put their lives on the line in support of our nation, our government and, well, us.

And this is why I’m so disturbed by the fact that I can’t find a single Memorial Day parade within a decent radius of my home (there’s one in Dacula, but that’s a hike and a half from my town). I grew up in the beautiful New England town of Fairfield, Connecticut, where on Memorial Day we held THE parade of the year. The middle school and high school bands marched, as did groups like Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops, the Rotary Club, Little League Teams and, of course, the American Legion. There were walking groups and clowns and floats and fire trucks.* The parade was festive and joyous, a time for the whole town (and it’s not a small town) to come together and celebrate. The parade still happens there every year – in fact, they just passed an ordinance requiring people to stop reserving spots along the route (which people apparently did as much as a week in advance) – and it’s one of the things I miss the most about my home town. This parade was what initiated my love of a day that has grown in my heart as I’ve aged and have learned to appreciate the day’s origin and meaning.

The fact that a Memorial Day parade celebrates the day is perhaps what’s driving this move away from parades. Maybe people believe that unless a Memorial Day ceremony is solemn, serious and entirely focused on gravity, it can’t possibly honor the veterans appropriately. I guess I can respect that. But I can’t get behind it. I liked Fairfield’s Memorial Day parade because it allowed all of us – young and old – to take part and honor our veterans in our own way and at our own level. Let’s face it, most kids just don’t have the capacity to consider the meaning of Memorial Day quite the way we adults do. But if we give them a way to participate that’s meaningful to them, which often means incorporating fun and joy, there’s more of a chance they’ll continue to anticipate Memorial Day with eager awe each year. Their understanding of the seriousness will grow and evolve as they do, don’t worry.

And then there’s my own crazy perspective: I want to celebrate (there’s that word again) the lives and contributions of these men and women, not just mourn them and the challenges they endured and continue to endure. I want to smile and dance and rejoice in the fact that people like these exist who bring such honor to our country and who look out for all of us. Do I mourn their sacrifices and struggles? Yes, I do. Do I think every Memorial Day event should include a period of serious and somber remembrance? Absolutely. But does celebration distract from the honor and meaning of the day? To that, I heartily disagree.

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