Monday, May 26, 2008

Decoration Day

If you want to do Memorial Day in the traditional fashion, wait four days, then go down to the local cemetery and chase off the goth kids. Oh, and bring your weedwhacker.

Memorial Day has its official story and its hidden history. I've mentioned this in an earlier entry, but here's the summary: Originally known as Decoration Day, the holiday came out of individuals who would tidy up the graves of the fallen from the Civil War. With over 600k fatalities, there was no shortage of graves deserving attention. The holiday got its jump-off in Boalsburg, PA, where a celebration got the attention of the Col General John Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic, which sounds like a paramilitary organization but was really a vets group. However, the even official origin notes that it was based on previous celebrations in the south.

So as a result, there are a plethora of previous contenders, such that anyone who has done some yardwork seems to have a valid claim on the premiere position, including one southern story that runs the practice back to the Mexican American War. There are in addition a variety of Confederate Memorial Days (the original Decoration Day was Union-only), of various histories and backgrounds, some of which are still on the books (though many in the south don't know about them).

But back to Decoration Day itself. It became started morphing into the non-sectarian Memorial Day in 1882, and was only officially recognized as Memorail Day in 1967. In the great holiday reorg of 1968, it moved to the last Monday of May as opposed to its original date. President's Day and Veteran's Day also moved, though the Vets got their day back. The pressure for the three-day weekend (and the uninterrupted flow of work around that weekend) was one of the main reasons for the move, but turning Memorial Day into a movable feast sort of breaks the rhythm of passing of the years, and has helped turn the holiday from one of our (many) days of remembrance to the starting gun on summer and the excuse for innumerable Folk Life festivals across the country.

More later,