I hate Memorial Day.
Okay, I don't completely hate it. I love having a long weekend. And any excuse to barbecue is fine by me. But I hate the mixed signals. First, there's the "Yay, America!" red, white and blue t-shirts and fireworks. Like Memorial Day is a mini Fourth of July. Then there's the "Don't forget all the people who had to DIE for you to be able to have this barbecue!" guilt. Thanks, that really makes me enjoy this hot dog so much more.
Maybe it's because I'm Canadian. There are some things about living in the USA that I still just don't quite get after ten years. When you say "long weekend" I get visions of Victoria Day, which is the birthday of a long-dead queen. It's the first long weekend of the spring, when Canadians barbecue, drink beer, open the cottage, and just generally have a good time. (Sound a bit familiar, Americans? A little bit like the guilt-free half of Memorial Day?)
But when you say "Memorial Day" I think of Remembrance Day. Which is a somber, solemn occasion with no barbecues, no fireworks, wreaths of poppies, and a single trumpeter playing Last Post. Kids don't get Remembrance Day off of school, instead, they go to a school assembly that is remarkably similar to a funeral. It's a time to remember the tragedy of war, to thank those who fought for our freedom, and to pray collectively as a country that we never repeat the past.
I understand the value of both holidays. Everyone needs a fun, long weekend after a dreary, long winter. And it's important to take time to remember those who have fought and died for our country. What I don't get is why America tries to pull off both holidays at once.
When I first moved here, I thought it was simple. Memorial Day was Victoria Day (aka the "fun" weekend), and Veterans Day was Remembrance Day (aka the "solemn" day). But that doesn't seem to be the case, even though Veterans Day and Remembrance Day are on the same day, and our two long weekends are only a week apart. Veterans Day is nice and all, but it only covers a tiny portion of the ground that Remembrance day covers: honoring those who fought for our country. At least in my experience, Veterans Day doesn't seem to address any of the other elements, such as remembering the tragedy of war so we don't repeat it and mourning those who died. Apparently, mourning those who died is meant to be a part of Memorial Day (one holiday for the living, one for the dead, I suppose?) And as far as I can tell, there is no American holiday where you remember the tragedy of war so we won't repeat it.
I think the biggest problem with Memorial Day is that everyone gets it off of school and work. Which pretty much forces it to be a party. If you really want people to be solemn and respectful, don't give them an excuse to party at the same time. That's just teasing.
So, forgive me if I don't go around waving a flag and honoring dead soldiers today. This is my long weekend, and I deserve a fun barbecue with my family. I'll make up for it when November 11 rolls around, a day which I always honor in the Canadian tradition, with mourning and sober reflection. War is a tragedy that I hope we never repeat. I am grateful for those who fought, and for those who died for both of my countries. And maybe I will even take a few minutes to pray for them today, before I bite into my burger. But I refuse to feel guilty for just wanting to have a fun weekend.