The end of May is almost upon us. Yet the start of summer doesn’t begin until another whole month goes by. True, there are different ways of determining the start of summer, but arbitrarily using Memorial Day is not one of them. We can use the meteorological definition, which has the start of summer always falling on the same day every year, June 1; or use the astrological calculation, which depends on the summer solstice, meaning it is based on the longest day of the year.
This year, Memorial Day falls on May 25th, while the start of summer, based on the summer solstice, has to wait until Saturday, June 20; summer, by that calculation, lasts until the autumnal equinox, which falls on Tuesday, September 22.
So who doesn’t know all that, you might say. And what difference does it make when we celebrate the start of summer? Well, for starters, imagine that the person you love most in the world died sometime in May or June of any particular year. Because it was near summer, depending on how you were determining the starting date — meteorologically or astrologically — all you could remember about when he (or she) died was that it had something to do with summer. Well, maybe it did, but thinking about it in that way, now, doesn’t it seem a little disrespectful or a little less than honoring their memory to not remember the actual date of their passing? Put the shoe on your own foot. Would you want to be remembered just because it’s the first day of summer, or because a person remembered that you had died sometime around summer? Or would you prefer—now that you’re putting a little thought into it—to be remembered on the actual day that you passed away?
Memorial Day may have gone the way of some other national holidays to fall on a Monday, but at least it is known to have a day of its own every year. The thing is, though, why do we have a Memorial Day and how should we deal with it? Do we “celebrate” it, or let it just pass us by without recognition worth mentioning, or what? Memorial Day is rooted in the Civil War; back in those days it was known as “Decoration Day.” The family and friends of the deceased decorated the graves of their loved ones who had fallen in the war with flowers and flags.
President Abraham Lincoln was president during that war. He delivered his Gettysburg Address on Nov. 19, 1863, months after the Battle of Gettysburg; it was made at the dedication of part of that battlefield as the first National Soldiers’ Cemetery.
While “celebration” may not be the word to use for such a solemn occasion as remembering those who have fallen during wartime, especially considering that the word celebration generally refers to the marking of a specific happy day or event or occasion, but our language may be lacking in an appropriate word to use in lieu of that in this case.
Some seem to want to celebrate it no matter what, as in the fact that it was created to pay respect to the dead. It would be like throwing a party every year to “celebrate” the death of a loved one. While the ones so celebrating may believe they are paying some kind of homage, it is really like saying, “Happy Death Day” as you party to celebrate the day of your loved one’s funeral, or the anniversary of the day your loved one died. You may know what it means to you, and why you are “celebrating,” and you are free to express your own feelings about the holiday (as in thanking the fallen for all they did to further our freedom; as in paying respect to our fallen troops by celebrating the holiday through embracing the very freedom those soldiers died to protect), but others may see it a different way.
We don’t all see things through the same eyes or with the same mindset. But if we at least believe that those who fought and died for the very freedoms we cherish deserve a day of their own, not one that is somehow connected to the first day of (unofficial) summer, we’ll have made inroads in understanding the nature of the day.
Let us never forget that however we acknowledge this day, it should always be a somber reminder of the sacrifice — willingly or unwittingly — that those men and women made to help keep our country free.
Maybe it’s not too late to start a new way of acknowledging Memorial Day. Maybe saying a prayer of gratitude for all we have, especially
our freedoms, and for those who helped us keep them at the very cost of their lives.
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Maramis Choufani is the Managing Editor of the Las Vegas Tribune. She writes a weekly column in this newspaper. To contact Maramis, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.