As I discussed in my earlier post, the importance of Memorial Day, like other national holidays, has been overrun with America’s drive for convenience & consumption, & a chance to connect people to America’s core promise has been lost. As with any global brand, this gap between the promise & experience of Brand The united states will make it increasingly difficult to compete in the future. So how did they get here? How did Memorial Day become about mattress sales & three-day weekends than a chance for collective purpose & identity? & is it feasible for Memorial Day to reconnect people to America’s core promise of “freedom & opportunity through sacrifice & unity”?
Convenience Is the Enemy of MeaningMemorial Day wasn’t always about convenience & consumption. Initially a solemn day, it was recognized–like New Year’s, Christmas & your birthday–on the same date every year: May 30. & like those holidays, it moved inconveniently across the days of the week.
This changed in 1971 when Congress enacted the National Holiday Act, shifting Memorial Day from May 30th to the last Monday of May, making a three-day weekend. This seemingly insignificant move made it both more convenient & less significant. Discussions about Memorial Day, in the event that they continued to occur, shifted from remembrance to holiday planning.
Think about for contrast the way Turkey still memorializes the death of its founding sister, Mustafa Atatürk. For one minute at 9:05am, on November 10 of each year, the country grinds to a halt: cars cease & shutdown, business transactions cease, & all conversation is suspended, for one minute, in every Turkish town. It’s terribly disruptive & brilliantly powerful–an expression of unity & remembrance absent in American observances.
Nostalgia Does not Equal RelevanceOther well-intended efforts to resurrect the meaning of Memorial Day fail to connect with a new generation. In 2004, the nation’s capital held a traditional Memorial Day parade for the first time in 60 years, complete with marching bands, color guards & patriotic floats. 60 years ago parades were the way to bring a community together. Today, while well-intentioned & respectful, such a revival is largely irrelevant.
Meaning is not about turning back the clock, it’s about generating relevance, & a powerful modern observance begins with understanding the current generation. Today’s young adults understand things differently. They are connected 24/7, receive information in bite-size pieces, think about social lovely integral to every day life, & are overwhelmed by over 3000 communication messages each day.
One example that speaks to this reality is the Iraq Body Count Exhibit, a travelling installation that plants red & white flags in public spaces around Memorial Day to help visualize the deaths of both US & Iraqi soldiers associated with the Iraq war. It takes 200 volunteers to set up, & has its own Facebook group. It helps people visualize the impact of war in a relevant way, & disrupts behavior–there will be no picnics or Frisbee in the park today. This makes it powerful.
To be successful, Memorial Day observances will must take forms unrecognizable to the marching-band-and-color-guard set.
What’s Next?So what does an inconvenient, relevant Memorial Day look like? Is it feasible for The united states to come together to keep in mind simultaneously? Check back tomorrow for my third post, where we’ll share some ideas that could make a difference & reconnect a new generation with Memorial Day & the American Experience.
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Written By: Johnson
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