The meaning of Memorial Day

Holidays tend to get associated with certain commercial trends.


“President’s day,” which is officially speaking the Washington’s Birthday holiday, seems to have developed an association with buying mattresses (explain that one).

Cinco de Mayo has beer. So does St. Patrick’s Day.

Halloween has, in addition to candy, an inexplicable number of costumes labeled “Sexy.”

And Christmas has, well, everything you can possibly spend money on.

Memorial Day, meanwhile, happens to fall in that part of the calendar where car dealers are vigorously trying to move the last of the previous model year, and also make their end-of-month sales goals, so it has developed as the holiday for buying a car (I have done this myself several times, to good financial advantage).

But in every case, the commercial motive tends to obscure the real meaning of the holiday, making these events seem like merely more days on which the objective is spending money and goofing off.

This is particularly true of Memorial Day, which doesn’t have an anchor in a specific historical or religious event, such as a battle, a birthday, or a day honoring a saint.

It is, by holiday standards, a rather high-concept event. And that means it can lead to some peculiarly off-point commemorations, such as, say, buying a car, or wishing someone a “Happy Memorial Day.”

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