Americans love holidays.
We have holidays that honor mothers and fathers, great presidents, unique leaders, and historic or religious events. Many of our holidays, however, have been moved to Mondays from their historic or original days to provide more leisure or recreational opportunities in connection with the holiday.This is not all bad, so long as the original intent or meaning of the holiday is not lost in secondary pursuits.
One of the holidays moved from its original day is Memorial Day, set aside to honor those whose mortality has ended, but whose memories live on. For many, however, this has become a day to mark the beginning of the summer season.
Memorial Day began during the Civil War when some Southern women chose May 30 to decorate the graves of fallen soldiers - Confederate and Union alike.
These women, it is believed, chose May 30 because the leader of their group, Cassandra Oliver Moncure, was of French origin and this date had significance to the French in connection with the burial of Napoleon Bonaparte.
The first nationwide declaration of a Memorial Day was May 30, 1868, and it has been a national holiday ever since. It is intended to be a day to honor American servicemen who have fallen in the wars of freedom.
In a larger sense, however, it is a day to honor more than just the heroes of war. It is a time to honor all those who have died. Even though Memorial Day is an American holiday, respect and honor of the dead knows no national boundaries. Many of those whom we honor have given their lives in the service of others, many have made the supreme sacrifice for the kingdom of God. Others have given their lives fighting for the happiness and joy of their families, and many have spent their occupational or financial lives in heroic efforts to better humanity.
M emorial Day is an appropriate time to honor all those of whom it can be said: "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13.)
Many of those whom we should remember and honor on Memorial Day are unknown to us. But they deserve our deepest appreciation.
Anyone who has stood in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D.C., and viewed the grave of the Unknown Soldier cannot help but be impressed by the honor and pomp and circumstance accorded this gravesite. But it is only one sober reminder that this unknown soldier fallen on a foreign battlefield represents countless thousands who made it possible for America to be the country it is today.
Likewise, those who now walk across the bridge at Concord, Mass., stroll the shady park at Lexington, or climb Bunker Hill in Boston, should not forget those whose lives, fortunes, and sacred honor were pledged for us. Though all these are virtually unknown to us today, their lives, and their deaths, made possible our incomparable gifts of freedom and peace in this great land.
A lso to be honored are the unknown pilgrims, pioneers, patriots, farmers, factory workers, housewives, merchants, and craftsmen who have lived and died for our America today. We are the beneficiaries of what they did, individually and collectively.
As we pause to remember the thousands of unknowns who have made our lives better, it is even more important for us to honor those whom we have known and loved, whose names are on our pedigree charts and whose lives have touched ours directly.
As we decorate the graves of those whose names we know, let us memorialize their deeds given so freely for us. Let us honor them for the qualities of their lives that have been transmitted to us. Let us express our gratitude in whatever appropriate ways we can for what they helped build into our lives.
And even though this Memorial Day does mark the beginning of another summer season of vacations and pleasure, let us resolve anew that our honor to those of the past best comes by the way we live and serve others here and now.
May we live our lives so that in fulfilling the measure of our creation we become benefactors to all the rest of mankind who will follow us.