Dr. Swisher, Why do we celebrate Memorial Day? Roger, Bowling Green, Ohio
Hello Roger. Thank you for this question that helps us all pause to reflect and remember this significant Holiday. The short answer to your question is that we still celebrate Memorial Day because American men and women here at home and all around the world still give their lives in defense of freedom and Democracy every single day. Memorial Day Sunday and the actual observance day on Monday gives each of us the opportunity to offer appreciation and thankfulness to service members and their families.
Memorial day in some form has been commemorated in the United States for one hundred and fifty six years. The Civil War which ended in the Spring of 1865, claimed more lives than any other conflict in U.S. history and thus required the establishment of America’s first National Cemeteries. Originally known as Decoration Day, this holiday was formed to remember the lives that were given as an “ultimate sacrifice” for fellow citizens. On the first official Decoration Day, future U.S. President, General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, as more than 5,000 people decorated the graves of 20,000 Civil War soldiers buried there.
The original date for what would become known as Memorial Day May 30 was chosen by General John A. Logan because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular battle. This continued for decades until 1968 when Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May in order to create a three-day weekend for Federal employees. This change went into effect in 1971. That same law declared Memorial Day a Federal holiday.
Cities and towns across the USA will host Memorial Day parades, picnics, barbeques and other special events today and tomorrow. Many people will visit cemeteries and memorials and place fresh flowers and other decorations on the graves of the fallen. Memorial Day also unofficially marks the beginning of the Summer Season.
Memorial Day for me is intrinsically linked to the Military Service of my family and that of my Church members. I have had family members serve in every major battle in America from the Civil War to Operation Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom. Perhaps that is the story for many of our weekly readers too. We celebrate Memorial Day personally and corporately because it is the right thing to do. Jesus said it this way, “Greater love has no one than this; than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” This truth is the message and meaning of Memorial Day in America.
The lyrics of America seem singularly appropriate “Our father’s God to Thee, Author of Liberty, to Thee we sing. Long may our land be bright with freedom’s holy light; Protect us by Thy might, Great God our King.”
You are invited to Celebrate with us at Epworth United Methodist Church as we honor America and those who serve her in all 5 Worship services this weekend.