He is supposed to memorial day o Memorial Day in the United States is about mourning and remembering deceased service members, but it also marks the unofficial start of summer in the North American nation and is framed in a long weekend of discounts on everything from mattresses even lawn mowers.
Auto club AAA, the American Automobile Association, said in a travel forecast that this holiday weekend could be “one for the record books, especially at airports,” with 42 million Americans projected to travel 50 miles (80 kilometers) or more.
Federal officials said Friday that the number of air travelers had already reached a pandemic-era high.
But for Manuel Castañeda Jr., 58, the day will be quiet in Durand, Ill., just outside of Rockford. He lost his father, a US Marine who served in Vietnam, in an accident in California while training other Marines in 1966.
“Memorial Day is very personal,” said Castañeda, who also served in the Marines and Army National Guard, where he met those who died in combat. “It’s not just the specials. It’s not just the barbecue.”
But the retired officer tries not to judge others who holiday differently: “How can I expect them to understand the depth of what I feel when they haven’t experienced anything like it?”
1. The official purpose of the holiday
It is a day of reflection and remembrance for those who died while serving in the United States military, according to the Congressional Research Service. The holiday is observed in part for the National Moment of Remembrance, which encourages all Americans to pause at 3 pm for a moment of silence.
2. The origins of the holidays
The holiday stems from the American Civil War, in which more than 600,000 service members of both the Union and the Confederacy died between 1861 and 1865.
There is little controversy about the first national celebration of what was then called Decoration Day. It happened on May 30, 1868, after a Union veterans’ organization called to decorate war graves with flowers, which were in bloom.
The practice was already widespread locally. Waterloo, New York, began a formal celebration on May 5, 1866, and was later heralded as the birthplace of the holiday.
However, Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, traced its first observance back to October 1864, according to the Library of Congress. And women in some Confederate states were decorating graves before the end of the war.
But David Blight, a Yale history professor, points to May 1, 1865, when some 10,000 people, many of them black, marched, listened to speeches, and dedicated the graves of the Union dead in Charleston, SC. South.
3. A sacred or sacrilegious holiday?
There are criticisms for the departure of the holiday from its original meaning. As early as 1869, The New York Times wrote that the holiday could become “sacrilegious” and cease to be “sacred” if it focuses more on pageantry, dining, and oratory.
In 1871, abolitionist Frederick Douglass feared that Americans were forgetting the impetus of the Civil War — slavery — when he delivered a Decoration Day speech at Arlington National Cemetery.
“We must never forget that the loyal soldiers lying under this turf stood between the nation and the destroyers of the nation,” he said.
Their concerns were well founded, said Ben Railton, a professor of English and American studies at Fitchburg State University in Massachusetts.
Even though approximately 180,000 black men served in the Union Army, the holiday in many communities would essentially become “White Memorial Day,” Railton said.
Meanwhile, how the day is spent, at least by the nation’s elected officials, has become a matter of scrutiny after the Civil War.
In the 1880s, then-President Grover Cleveland was said to have gone fishing, and “people were horrified,” said Matthew Dennis, a professor emeritus of history at the University of Oregon.
4. The evolution of Memorial Day
Emeritus Professor Dennis said the importance of Memorial Day diminished somewhat with the addition of Armistice Day, which marked the end of World War I on November 11, 1918. Armistice Day became a national holiday in 1938 and was renamed Veterans Day in 1954.
An act of Congress changed Memorial Day from each May 30 to the last Monday in May 1971. Dennis said the creation of the three-day weekend recognized that Memorial Day had long morphed into a more generic memory of the dead, as well as a day of leisure.
In 1972, Time magazine said that the holiday had become “a 3-day national holiday that seems to have lost much of its original purpose.”
5. Why sales and travel?
Even in the 19th century, funeral ceremonies were followed by recreational activities like picnics and foot races, Dennis said.
The holiday also evolved along with baseball and the automobile, the five-day work week and summer vacation, according to the 2002 book “A History of Memorial Day: Unity, Discord and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
In the mid-20th century, a small number of businesses defiantly began to open on the holiday.
Once the holiday moved to Monday, “traditional barriers to doing business began to break down,” wrote authors Richard Harmond and Thomas Curran.
These days, Memorial Day sales and tours are deeply embedded in the nation’s memory. This weekend 2.7 million more people will travel for the unofficial start of summer compared to last year, despite inflation, according to AAA.
The Transportation Security Administration said it screened 2.66 million people at airport checkpoints Thursday, about 2,500 more than last Friday, and the highest number since the Sunday after Thanksgiving in 2019.
Meanwhile, Jason Redman, 48, a retired Navy special agent who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, said he will be thinking about the friends he has lost. Thirty names are tattooed on his arm “for every boy I personally knew who died.”
He wants Americans to remember the fallen, but also to have fun, knowing that lives were sacrificed to create the holiday.