Etiquette of Memorial Day Observance

Further to my last post, wishing everyone a Happy Memorial Day, a commenter chides the use of “Happy Memorial Day” and, by implication, the idea of a happy holiday:

I do not believe malice is intended, but do you not see a conflict with placing “Happy” within the phrase involving Memorial Day? It’s not a day of celebration (ie birthday, july 4), but of commemoration (Pearl Harbor, 9/11). You wouldn’t say happy funeral to someone, correct? This may be the result of a default to saying happy [random holiday] and to the association of parties/bbqs/days off/etc.

It may sound awkward but “have a solemn Memorial Day” is my preference. Maybe just “Remember on Memorial Day” as a direct saying, feels more natural. A good time to remind people of wars, soldiers, and support services long forgotten or dismissed. That individuals must fight, and be ready at all times, for their way of life. Life isn’t a video game or movie where the good guys win in the end and with minimal casualties. We have been fortunate to be buffered by, not only a fantastic national defense, but by large bodies of water and limited or no threat both north and south. Our society is breeding generations of possibly complacent persons due to civilized advancement; threats however will never diminish. Must remember what it took to get to where we are and that next Memorial Day you might be recalling the life of someone near and dear. The future is unknowable, but it is securable.

PS. Just a side note, Armed Forces Day is the third Saturday in May. Not sure if that was celebrated or not here, but I wish it would gain more traction.

I actually thought carefully about how I wanted to express this, and I intended Happy Memorial Day. My own take is that part of the nature of Memorial Day is that it is both a day of remembrance and a day of the happy sharing of the security that the sacrifice by this country’s armed forces has obtained for the rest of us. I think it is perfectly appropriate to hold a BBQ, raise a glass to the performance of duty by the troops and to the honor of those who have died, and treat it as a celebration. Or to have a parade that is at once a remembrance of those who have died for their country and a celebration of those that serve. I don’t think those are incompatible sentiments, and I think that assuming that parties on Memorial Day are little more than complacent people taking their security, and those who provide it, for granted is not necessarily right.

The tradition of raising a glass to the honored dead and then celebrating the security for which one is grateful is a long and honorable one – and thoroughly martial. It does not necessarily mean complacency; it might, but by no means necessarily. But these are questions of sensibility, and people will have different senses of the propriety of the occasion. The thread is open to comments on this question.