10. The Food – Memorial Day, having traditionally marked the beginning of the summer months, has largely become known as the barbecuing holiday. Many Americans will fire up the
grill and list burgers, steaks and other barbecue fare on their Memorial Day menus. For us, the grill is the centerpiece of our meals. Living in Florida grants us the opportunity to grill almost every day, which helps keep the house cool and lowers our utility cost. We (I mostly) are trying to stick to a low gluten and gluten free diet for health reasons. Our dinner today will include: Several grilled veggies (zucchini, peppers, red onion, sweet potato), brushed with olive oil, on the grill-griddle, brown rice and chicken & apple sausages.
9. The Beginning of Summer – Memorial Day has unofficially become known as the beginning of summer, as water parks and beaches open, summer concerts begin and vacationers travel during the long weekend. In fact, AAA said last week that 36.1 million people would travel at least 50 miles from home May 22 through May 26, up from 35.5 million last year. That’s the highest total since the recession and the second highest total since 2000, behind only the 44 million who traveled during Memorial Day 2005. In Florida alone, there is expected to be at least 1.6 million travelers on the roadways. Florida is known for it’s warm temps and beautiful beaches, which draw travelers all months of the year.
8. A Day Off Work – Memorial Day is a Federal Holiday, which means that most government and state workers will get the day off to reflect on its meaning. A three day weekend for some, means celebrating the start of summer, traveling and (most importantly) remembering the fallen soldiers who have created the foundation for us to enjoy these privileges. There are many workers, however, who are not allowed this privilege. In fact, there are millions of Americans who don’t have Monday off (or any paid vacation at all for that matter). These workers are also more likely to lack other benefits such as health care and sick leave. Furthermore, firefighters, police men and women, soldiers and other service men and women are required to stay on duty during such an important holiday for them. So while you are enjoying your day off, please recognize that many are not allowed this privilege and those who serve 24 hours a day in order to protect us.
7. Fireworks – Fireworks, while having been discovered and manufactured by the Chinese in the 6th Century, have been used to celebrate important events in the United States as far back as our first Independence Day celebration in 1777 and George Washington’s inauguration in 1789. Since then, holidays such as New Year’s Eve, Fourth of July and Memorial Day have been met with fireworks displays that seem to get more extravagant every year. American’s have embraced fireworks as a patriotic tradition to enjoy with families and friends, while many cultures enjoy fireworks as a focal point for many aesthetic, cultural and religious celebrations. To me, there is nothing more joyful than a child waving a sparkler.
6. Festivals, Parades and Other Celebrations – The National Memorial Day Parade, presented by the American Veterans Center, is held Annually in Washington D.C. in honor of those who have sacrificed in service to our country. This tradition was missing for 70 years until 2005, when the AVC brought it back to our nations capital. The parade includes nearly 200 elements, including marching bands, active duty and retired military units, youth groups and parade floats as well as hundreds of veterans who served in WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm and Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. Chicago also has one of the nation’s largest Memorial Day parades, with over 10, 000 spectators each year. Other cities and states hold music festivals, art shows other events during this weekend of remembrance. Here on the beaches of Tampa Bay, the Bands on the Sand event is in its 6th year and includes food and craft vendors, fireworks, two days of concerts and a Color Guard Ceremony by the American Legion Post 125.
5. Spending Time on the Water – Having grown up living near the largest inland lake in the state of Michigan (Houghton Lake), the water has become a spiritually soothing place for me. There is just something about the sound of waves hitting the shore, sunset views and the calm mornings spent on or near a body of water that put my mind and body at ease. Most of my early memories include swimming until dark when our Mother would beg us to get out of the water, ‘pruney’ fingers being the tell-tale sign that you were in the lake for too long and living in a bathing suit and bare feet. In Michigan, summer only lasted about 2-3 good months and we were determined to get as much swimming in as possible. Today, my partner, myself and our two furry children, reside in Florida where Boca Ciega Bay meets our back yard and the Gulf of Mexico greets us when we walk across the main road. Being completely surrounded by water is a daily experience for us that we vow to never take for granted.
4. Time With Family & Friends – Time spent with family and friends often happens far less than we would all like and has become reserved for holidays, celebrations and special events. Americans typically use holidays as an opportunity to spend time with those we love and cherish as well as to remember those we may have lost. Family picnics, trips and other activities often happen during holidays such as Memorial Day. That is not to say that one should or does not honor the spirit of each Holiday, but more to say that, to myself especially, it is more meaningful and cherished when spent with people with whom we are closest. It can be a time to honor those family and friends who have lost their lives in the line of duty, those who may have fought in the past for our freedoms and are no longer with us and those who are still serving to protect our freedoms that we are allowed every day. Memorial Day may hold different meaning and significance to each person and their close ones and however we each choose to honor it, family and friends will always remain an integral part of ours.
3. Patriotism – Memorial Day is one of many patriotic holidays for the United States, including Independence Day, Flag Day and Veterans Day. During these holidays, Americans not only celebrate the specific meaning of each holiday, but their collective feeling of attachment to the United States as their homeland. American patriotism is even identified by some as an emphasis on values rather than commitment to the nation in which we live. Patriotism also focuses on the principles set forth by our constitution, and our rights to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’. To me, this looks and feels like American flags everywhere the eye can see; red, white & blue foods and displays; patriotic music and clothing; parades, festivals and memorials centered around patriotic themes; volunteering to support patriotic causes and speeches celebrating patriotism and remembering the foundation our country was built upon.
2. History – Memorial Day, has not always been called by this name. In 1868, the original title was ‘Decoration Day’. The name Memorial Day, as we now know it, was first used after World War II. Also, it did not always fall on a Monday. In 1968, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, established that certain holidays should be observed on Mondays in order to increase the number of 3 day weekends for federal employees. Memorial Day was first observed in 1866, after the civil war, in both the North and the South. While originally there were two separate Memorial Days for each Union and Confederate soldiers lost in battle, the official birthplace was declared in 1966 to be in Waterloo, NY. This holiday was originally meant to honor soldiers who lost their lives during the Civil War and is now inclusive to all soldiers who have fought and died for our country’s freedom in all wars and conflicts. In total, there have been 1, 196, 793 war casualties for the U.S.
“It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
1. Remembering the Fallen – The most important part of Memorial Day is always this: Remembering those who have fought in honor of our country and have sacrificed their lives doing so. While many of us associate this holiday with summer, fun and food; we should make sure we also use it as a time to honor the reason for the holiday. The official time to remember American soldiers is at 3 p.m. according to the ‘National Moment of Remembrance Act’. It is also tradition to wear red poppies, place flags on the graves of fallen soldiers and to fly flags at half staff. The tradition to wear red poppies was inspired by the 1915 poem ‘In Flanders Fields’ by John McCrea. Moina Michael, a YWCA war worker, wrote a poem in tribute to McCrea and vowed to always wear a red silk poppy as a symbol of remembrance for those who died in war. This tradition has been adopted in the U.S., France, England and more than 50 other countries. Another tradition in honor of this holiday, is for the President or Vice President to lie a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery and for the U.S. Army Infantry Regiment to place flags on Arlington graves. However you choose to celebrate this holiday, please be sure to not forget that Remembrance should always be your number 1 Memorial Day activity.
All Images (c) AKPratt Photography