The meaning of a holiday can get lost in its trappings — decorations, days off, family dinners. Such is the case with Memorial Day, a day that in Maine has the added distinction of being the unofficial start to the summer tourist season. Open the I-95 floodgates; they’re coming.
What Memorial Day is supposed to be is a time to remember solemnly those who died serving in this country’s armed forces. The holiday can be traced back to the Civil War, when the graves of fallen soldiers were decorated with flowers in a poignant springtime tribute. Formerly known as “Decoration Day,” the holiday came to be called “Memorial Day” after World War II. The 1968 Uniform Holiday Act designated Memorial Day as a national holiday celebrated on the last Monday in May.
These days, Memorial Day is associated with long weekend getaways, backyard barbecues and retail sales. All of those things are good (great, actually), but they’re garnish, not the main dish.
The meaning of patriotism, too, can get lost in the trimmings. Being a proud American is not about flag waving, parade going and standing for the national anthem, although all are appropriate ways to express the sentiment. And it’s certainly not about denouncing fellow citizens as unpatriotic for expressing their American pride in different ways.
Being patriotic is about loving and respecting your country. That love can be felt and not seen, and it’s not blind. You can love your country and still want to change it.
Americans don’t need to proclaim “We are the best,” but instead should acknowledge that we must continually work toward something better together.
The preamble to the U.S. Constitution states “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” We like the part about “a more perfect Union.”
Perfect, we ain’t, but we’re working on it. It’s something to be proud of.