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This Memorial Day

This Memorial Day


by Chris Petry

Memorial Day is often recognized as the beginning of summer (though technically speaking
June 21st claims that honor), and that means sweaters are tucked away until late fall, the kids
are in their last week or so of school, and the smell of your neighbor’s barbecue begins
permeating the air.
There’s certainly something magical about summer. Unless you’re like me and you keep your
thermostat on 60 degrees, refuse to swap your blacks for baby blues, and cover up with enough
sunblock to protect you from UV radiation until December. Let’s not talk about that. Summer,
yay! Consistently warm temperatures, beach vacations, steaks on the grill, lush green forests,
mosquitos… Memorial Day weekend is the day we begin to appreciate all those things once
again. Okay, maybe not the last one.
What is Memorial Day about? On a federal level it’s recognized as a day to honor the men and
women who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving in the armed forces, and has been
recognized as such since 1971. Like most traditions and observances, its origins can be traced
back much further than the day it was officially declared a holiday. A number of towns
throughout the United States claim some hand it its early development, with some of the usual
rituals and practices traceable to nearly 200 years ago. Doylestown, Pennsylvania and Grafton,
West Virginia have held annual parades since 1868. Both are dropped from the running of
longest running official observance, however, because Rochester, Wisconsin beat them to the
punch by a full year. New York State was the first to adopt the holiday on a state level in 1873
and, as previously mentioned, it was declared a federal holiday just 52 years ago.
While Memorial Day came to prominence after the American Civil War and its earliest intent
was to honor fallen soldiers, over time it has become a societal reflection of Memento Mori, a
Latin phrase that refers to the things that remind us of death or mortality. While that sounds rather morbid, death is a uniting universal experience that has been observed, honored, and philosophized around the globe in thousands of different cultures and religions throughout history. Extra special celebrations were often called to honor a nation’s warriors and many countries throughout the world have a special day of remembrance set aside for them.
As we gather to enjoy what is arguably the first weekend of the summer, let us take a moment to thank all of our service members past and present!