How should you celebrate Memorial Day? You don’t.
We were released early. As I was leaving the office on Friday I was hit with a barrage of “Happy Memorial Day” comments. Every single person in the office said something about their plans; grilling, traveling, camping. Well, all but three that is. All three of those people knew what the holiday actually is. Memorial Day is not a day of celebration but rather a time of remembrance. All three of them, like myself, were veterans. All three of them remained silent on the comments.
Now with that somber beginning out of the way I don’t want anyone to feel like I’m lecturing here or trying to be better than. Quite the opposite; I’m jealous. I wish that I could think about this holiday with the joyful innocence that they did, but I cannot. So in order to help educate (and maybe just feel a little better about myself) I thought I’d break down two things: what Memorial Day actually is and why the heck do we BBQ and “celebrate” during it.
What is Memorial Day?
Sometimes I feel like a fraud. You see, I grew up in a military family, and I’ve been in the military for nearly two decades. I was even a medic in the infantry, but I never saw combat in the way that you may think. No big invasions or major conflicts. My service has been mostly peaceful, but the conflict that I have seen has been violent and personal. I’ve never really opened up about it, and I’m not about to here. Most of my friends that died while I’ve been in were by suicide. Still, I take that time to remember them every year. Much more often than that, if we're honest, but certainly on Memorial Day weekend. So to me, memorial day has always been a day of observance, remembrance, and silent thanks for still being here.
Memorial Day is not Veteran’s Day. I made that mistake once when I was young and was swiftly (and correctly) corrected by my cousin, who has actually been there and done that. Memorial Day has a somewhat murky timeline for when it started, but a few dates can help us frame the picture. In May 1865 the first widely publicized memorial day to place in Charleston, South Carolina. Nearly 10,000 people gathered to pay remembrance to the Union soldiers who had been kept captive and died there during the war to help end slavery. Still, many other cities cite themselves as having the first Memorial Day events around this same time. By 1869 it was known as “Decoration Day” when people would go to the military grave sites to decorate and remember their fallen comrades, family members, and fellow warfighters.
Traditionally the holiday took place on May 30th each year. The holiday continued to grow but only became official in the 1968 Uniform Monday Holiday Act. Since then, it has been observed on the last Monday in May. As you can tell, this holiday bears a lot of meaning to service members and gold star families (the families of the fallen) and is seen as a very solemn time. So that raises the question: why all the BBQs?
But why all the BBQs?
This one is simple: summer! Well, warm weather, at least. Since the holiday easily predates modern air conditioning, it makes sense that, like other warm weather holidays like July 4th, we may want to be outside in the fresh air instead of cooped up in a hot house. Naturally, grills are just kinda made for this sort of occasion. More people in the United States grill on Memorial Day weekend than any other time of the year. Additionally, when there are gatherings of thousands of people it seems reasonable that there may be some food getting made, some drinks being poured, and by the end of the night some merriment happening no matter the original intent. Give it enough time to change and enough “peace time” to for most people to forget that we’re still fighting, and eventually, even a somber holiday like Memorial Day will devolve into a family party with no tie whatsoever except for getting a day off of work.
We don’t celebrate; we remember
I guess that’s kinda the big takeaway here; find your way to remember. For me, it’s usually just saying a few names later in the day and wondering why. For others, it is drinking alone and crying (please get help, there are people out here for you when you’re ready), and for others yet it is a big family celebration. Honestly, all of these ways have their purpose. All of them work. Just please remember to stop, even just for a few moments, to think of those that laid down their lives for what we continue to fight for and believe in today. If you want to get a little old school and take the extra step, then maybe go decorate a veteran’s grave or memorial with a few flowers and pour one out for the KIA homies.
In remembrance of SPC Tibbits
James is an active travel writer, blogger, and media creator from Montana. He's served in the military in the USCG and in the US Army as a combat medic and a logistics officer. James gave a compelling TEDx talk about edible insects and was a founder at Cowboy Cricket Farms and Atropia Corp. He is a serial entrepreneur with over 20 years of business experience after starting his first business at 14. After years of military and business life, he has turned towards writing and photography to express a long-repressed creative side as well as have an excuse to travel even more. More of his work is available on www.RolinWild.com or on Instagram at @RolinWild