What is Memorial Day & how did it start?
In the United States, we celebrate Memorial Day. It always falls on the last Monday of May. On Memorial Day, we remember all the soldiers who have died while fighting for our country. The first Memorial Day was held in May 1868, at Arlington National Cemtery, in Virginia, right across the Potomac River from Washington DC. Visitors places flowers on the graves of both Union (North) and Confederate (South) soldiers who had died in the US Civil War that had ended just three years earlier.
How do Americans observe Memorial Day?
People wave flags and hang them from their porch. Many people hang their flag at half-mast on that day, to honor the fallen. (Below see a flag at half mast at a popular fast food restaurant, Chick-fil-A, to honor the loss of First Lady Barbara Bush.) We also have Veterans Day, in November. Veterans Day honors everyone who has ever served in the United States military, whether they survived battle or not. However, Memorial Day specifically honors those who have died while serving their country in the US military.
Because Memorial Day is a national holiday and it falls on Monday, a week day, many businesses and activities are closed. (In the USA, we have about a half-dozen holidays that always fall on a Monday. This is so we Americans can have more beloved "three-day weekends," when we get a break from Friday afternoon till Tuesday.) As with many other holidays, including Christmas and Easter, the initial purpose of the holiday has been lost, or made less important, over the years. For example, Memorial Day is thought of as the unofficial start of the summer. Some schools end their year the Friday before Memorial Day. Outdoor pools open on Memorial Day, and since the weather is usually warm by late May, many people go to a nearby lake, river, or have a cook-out that weekend. Stores have Memorial Day or Memorial Day Weekend (the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday before Memorial Day) sales featuring low prices for summer clothes. The city that hosts the headquarters of DreyerCoaching.com, Roanoke, Virginia, hosts Festival in the Park on Memorial Day Weekend.
These are all terrific activities and a great way to spend time with family and friends. It can also be great weather, a great reason to spend some time outside. But Memorial Day was enacted to remember the soldiers who paid the ultimate price to protect our freedom and ability to live in the United States. It is because of them that we can have Memorial Day activities. In many towns, there is a parade downtown on Memorial Day with a military band like this one.
Learn more about Memorial Day by listening to and reading this short message; it is GREAT way to practice your listening skills.
These two political cartoons show us how people's thoughts about Memorial Day have become less focused on the soldiers and more focused on the activities. Being able to interpret a political cartoon and identify the symbolism, irony, and overall message is a great intellectual skill. It is a fine way to keep your mind sharp.
This cartoon has a man grilling his food, making sure he has everything ready for the Memorial Day picnic. He doesn't want to forget anything, but the picture reminds us he is forgetting about all the soldiers who have died.
A licensed teacher in the US state of Virginia since 1987, Scott Dreyer has been helping Chinese speakers improve their English since 1989. Dreyer lived in Taiwan from 1989-1999 where he learned Mandarin, met his wife, started his family, and realized he loved working with Chinese students. He became an award-winning author and started teaching ESL online in 2008. Dreyer and his wife and their four adult children make their home in the beautiful Roanoke Valley in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.dreyercoaching.com/en/about/scott-dreyer