This weekend is Memorial Day weekend.  The official holiday itself is on Monday.  Think about it for a minute.  What do you see when you think of Memorial Day weekend?  For most Americans the phrase conjures up the following images:

  • The Indianapolis 500 auto race
  • A 30% Off sale at XYZ Retail Outlet (name the store with the best sale)
  • A family cookout (hamburgers, hot dogs, corn on the cob, watermelon, and lots of beer and soda)
  • The first opportunity of the year to head to the seashore, mountains, or the pool
  • A day off from work at the boss’s expense

Very few of us think of Memorial Day in its true context: as a national “holiday” that was originally designated Decoration Day. Initially, it was a day set aside for living soldiers to “decorate” the graves of deceased soldiers with flowers, flags, and wreaths.  It wasn’t until the 1880s that the term Memorial Day would be assigned to the day.  And it didn’t become a national “holiday” until 1967, when it was legally recognized as Memorial Day.

FlagWhen I was a child growing up in an affluent New Jersey suburb (the suburb was affluent, we weren’t!), I seem to remember that there was always a parade to honor those who had made the ultimate sacrifice.  But today, things are different.  As the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield would say, “Memorial Day don’t get no respect!”  And that’s sad.  If ever a day deserved a parade, it is Memorial Day.

So, this weekend, take a minute to reflect upon the true meaning of Monday’s “holiday.” Maybe watch an old war movie like The Longest Day, Gettysburg, or Saving Private Ryan.  Think about a relative, former neighbor, or friend you may have known who died protecting your freedom, and offer up a prayer.  Perhaps decorate a soldier’s grave. Then, and only then, watch the Indy 500, eat that hot dog, or take a dip in the pool.

Give Memorial Day the respect it deserves.