It’s Memorial Day. That means two things are going to happen. Someone will say “Happy Memorial Day” and links to articles about why it’s not “Happy Memorial Day” will make their rounds on social media. I couldn’t say for certain how long this back and forth has been going on, but I do know I’ve struggled with the issue the past few years, because I get it. Both sides of it.
Memorial Day is not like most holidays, religious or secular. The typical holiday is about celebrating a victory, a Holy day, an anniversary, a special event, a person, or a thing (like cheesecake or drinking straws – because yes, we celebrate those). Unlike those days, Memorial Day is about mourning and remembrance. It’s about those who gave all in service to and protection of their country. Our country. A day of mourning for the wounds left behind for those who live Memorial Day every day.
This sentiment seems to be easily lost in the celebrations, barbecues, and sales that are more representative of the start of summer than a memorial to fallen service members. Instead of recognizing sacrifice, we are partying, drinking, and shopping. With all the festivities and the day off work and school, it can feel natural to wish someone a Happy Memorial Day. Don’t. Instead, remember that today is about those who didn’t come home. Say a prayer, visit a cemetery, raise an American flag on your front lawn, or simply take a quiet moment to reflect on the freedoms won by their loss.
That said, some people don’t know better. No one has pointed out to them the pain that Memorial Day carries for a widow or parents who lost a child to war, or the men and women who returned home without their closest friend. It simply hasn’t occurred to them that “Happy Memorial Day” may not be the best sentiment for the day.
When someone wishes me a Happy Memorial Day, I often nod and smile and just accept they are trying to be kind and friendly. Sometimes they may thank my husband for his service or recognize the sacrifice of military spouses. If it’s appropriate, I politely correct them, not in an attempt to shame them, but to educate them on the true purpose of the day and the significance it carries. This often looks like “Thank you, but the real thanks goes to those no longer with us, who sacrificed for their country.” If I’m at a party, and I haven’t attended a Memorial Day party in quite some time, but if I do, this polite reminder takes the form of a toast to those we’ve lost.
Maybe they are trying to honor the day, but just don’t know the right way to express that. I mean, how do you say “have a pleasant day of mournful remembrance.” The point is making an effort to appreciate the place the sentiment is coming from, not the words chosen to express it. And, let’s be honest, if you think of those who never came home, I’d wager they would want to see happy faces, hot barbecues, and cold beers. They didn’t die so we could sit around as miserable shut its. They died to preserve our rights, our freedoms, and our pursuit of happiness.
So please, be happy on Memorial Day. Celebrate your freedoms. Raise a glass, but do it in honor of the fallen. Take the time to recognize the service of others who gave you that right. Be respectful of those who are mourning today and every day. Be aware that your word choice matters. And if you are on the receiving end, try, if you can, to extend grace and understanding to those who may not know better. Educate them if you can. Appreciate that they may be trying to do the right thing, just going about it the wrong way.
Memorial Day is a day of remembrance, gratitude, appreciation, and recognition of the sacrifices made to secure the freedoms we enjoy today.