Explore the meaning of Memorial Day through news stories
The American Automobile Association predicts Americans will travel more this Memorial Day than last year despite higher gasoline prices. Have students look for stories on what people are doing this Memorial Day. Taken as a whole, do the stories say anything about the holiday? About Americans? Are veterans right in saying that the central purpose of Memorial Day has been lost to hoopla?
Newspapers often carry Memorial Day stories quoting veterans on past military actions. Such stories reflect a piece of history and perspective that otherwise might not be published. Have students find such stories -- or stories about current military actions around the globe. Then discuss the role of the Armed Forces in larger scheme of government functions including promoting commerce, preserving freedom and wading through thorny international issues.
Have students scan newspapers for the many examples of rituals that mark American culture, including slang, driving behavior and other identifying habits. Compare the impact of these cultural markers to official holidays. How does each contribute to the sense of national identity?
Just about every American looks forward to Memorial Day as a welcome three-day weekend. It's the traditional, if not actual, kick-off of summer complete with picnics and short trips.
However to military veterans and their families, Memorial Day is also a time to honor the men and women who died serving their country, especially during war or military action. Marking the day began after the Civil War and was first known as Decoration Day.
To the people who established the day, it seemed fitting to mark selfless service to country.
Changing Times: Some veterans object to making Memorial Day a light-hearted holiday. They claim the day has become more a national three-day lark than time set aside for honoring the war dead.
Still, many towns around the country have Memorial Day parades and other events specifically honoring those gave their life serving their country. Events are often sponsored by veterans groups such as the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars, commonly known as the VFW.
Three day weekends: A number of U.S. holidays used to have a fixed date. Memorial Day, for example, was traditionally celebrated on May 30. But in 1971 it was made a floating holiday, with the actual day off being the last Monday of May. That insures a three-day weekend, giving the holiday more of a celebratory tone, as opposed to a somber occasion to honor war dead.
The role of holidays: Memorial Day is among a number of national holidays including the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving. Such days set aside time to give Americans a common experience that helps shape the definition of being American.
Holidays help pass along the culture. The Fourth of July, for example, marks the beginning of a nation with high ideals that in many ways has become the envy of the world.
And Memorial Day is designed to remind Americans that freedoms came with a cost.
Front Page Talking Points Archive