As I drift into my “golden years” I’ve become sort of a curmudgeon. Hopefully a lovable curmudgeon like Andy Rooney, but a curmudgeon nonetheless. Mind you, I think curmudgeons are a good thing. They often bring up uncomfortable or unpopular topics in a kinder, gentler way than simply screaming at people.

A case in point is holidays. I’m all for holidays. They give us something to look forward to; a break from the routine of our lives. People generally get Christmas, Easter, Valentines Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and Independence Day right. What I don’t like is when holidays become a holiday from the holiday.

Confused? Consider this: I live in a college town. Both of our local universities have declared March 31st as Cesar Chavez Day. It is an official school holiday and no classes are held. Chavez was a Latino American who helped found the United Farm Workers. He and others put the plight of farm workers on a national stage. On Cesar Chavez Day people are asked to be of service to their local community. While that certainly happens at some level, a number of students don oversize sombreros and pass out on the street from drinking pitchers of Margaritas. Those students are taking a holiday from the holiday and making a mockery of the legacy of Cesar Chavez.

Memorial Day seems to be a holiday that is teetering on the edge. Memorial Day started out as Decoration Day in 1868 to honor Union Civil War veterans. May 30th was chosen as the date, mostly because at least some flowers in all Northern climate zones would be in bloom at the end of May. As the decades ticked on, Decoration Day evolved into a day to honor all who had died. Eventually the name of the holiday changed to Memorial Day. In addition to honoring veterans, families often went to cemeteries to tend to the family plot and place flowers on the graves of individual members.

That all began to change in 1968, when Memorial Day became one of four holidays that was moved to a Monday to make a three-day weekend. Although many Americans embraced the idea of moving Memorial Day from May 30th to the fourth Monday in May, it was not because it gave them more time to travel to attend to memorial observances. It gave them time to do recreational activities. In fact, it gave them an opportunity to take a holiday from the holiday.

The change to the fourth Monday was not without its critics. The Veterans of Foreign Wars stated, “Changing the date merely to create three-day weekends has undermined the very meaning of the day. No doubt, this has contributed a lot to the general public’s nonchalant observance of Memorial Day.” Indeed, until his death in 2012, World War II veteran Senator Inouye of Hawaii continually introduced a measure to return Memorial day to May 30th. His measure never gained any significant traction.

When Memorial Day rolls around, take time to remember why you are getting the day off. On your way to the barbecue, boating on the lake, watching sporting event or playing a round of golf, take a few minutes to drop by your local cemetery. Visit a family member, a veteran, or someone you don’t even know. Many of those spending eternity at your feet have given their lives for our freedom.

Text and copy © Douglas Keister