Holidays lose the original intent
Monday, November 25, 2013 3:06 AM
Recently I saw a news photo in the daily paper of a Veterans Day ceremony honoring deceased veterans. About the same time I heard someone praying for "all of our veterans, but especially those who have died." It was the "especially" that got my attention.
Not long after, a friend and I were discussing my observation that for some reason, on Veterans Day there is more emphasis on veterans who have died than there are on living veterans: it is as if they have to die before we really appreciate what they have done. He pointed out the planned intent of Veterans Day was to honor living veterans and Memorial Day was to honor the deceased veterans, and those aren't the only holidays that seem to have lost their original meaning.
He was right: Memorial Day was the holiday that was supposed to honor our fallen veterans. But it has changed to be the day that we honor all of our dead, veterans or not.
In years long gone there were ceremonies at cemeteries where that specific activity occurred. I remember well when, as a young kid, every Memorial Day I dressed up in my Scout uniform and went to the cemetery to participate with my fellow Scouts in the formalities.
The white crosses, one for every deceased veteran from our area, were installed just for this event. Each had a name on it. We Scouts would line up somewhere out of sight of the crowd and then the commander would call out a name, such as "Ivan Loge, World War I. Decorate." At that command, one of us at the head of the line would be handed a bouquet of flowers and a poppy. She or he would solemnly walk to the cross with that name on it, place the flowers at the base of the cross and drape the poppy around the cross itself. Then that Scout would return to the end of the line and the next name was called.
It was a very impressive ceremony. Of course there were also speeches and music and everyone recited the pledge of allegiance. We felt very privileged to be part of the program.
It was somewhere during those years that, after that formal event was over, it became custom that families would return to their cars and pick up flowers to take to their own loved ones' graves. I am sure it was simply a measure of respect and there was no intent to usurp the solemnity of specifically honoring our deceased veterans. But now it is fairly safe to say that the ceremonies to honor deceased veterans on that particular holiday are few and far between.
The original holiday - not Memorial Day - that traditionally was set aside to honor deceased family members was All Saints' Day. That is when people around the world - except now right here in our own culture - go to gravesites or to the temples where cremains are interred, and pay respects. Our All Saints' Day has been taken over for recovering from a sugar high caused by Halloween the night before. And for eating even more of the candy collected then.
Now we are coming up to yet another holiday that has lost its original intent: Thanksgiving. True or not, tradition has it that it started with the early Pilgrim settlers who were grateful to the native American Indians who helped them survive their first winter and then to plant, grow and harvest crops that could survive the weather. They had stored up food from the harvest and were using some of it to celebrate with and show thanks to these native people who were being such a huge help to them.
I have a picture in my mind of those folks all sitting around a big table, likely outside because it was a big crowd. They were enjoying the food and at some point speeches were made to the Native American Indians, in person thanking them for all they had done.
I think that is what has been lost: I cannot remember even one time around a Thanksgiving table when people thanked the others present for what they had done for one another during the past year. It seems to me that Thanksgiving - showing gratitude to other people - has been taken over by the importance of the food, and even by Black Friday.
It seems to me to be a good idea to recapture some of the original reasons for these important holidays. We could start with Thanksgiving.
One time I found a card that read, "I am grateful to my parents for living, but to my teachers for living well." I gave it to one of my favorite professors. Now I am going do more of that: personally verbalize my gratitude to specific people for things -big and little - that they have done for me during the past year. I will try to find some specific anecdote that occurred with each one, so my thanks will be very personal, tailored to that person whom I am thanking.
This could be the very best Thanksgiving yet. And if there is food on the table too, that's a bonus, not the reason.