The weather is warming, the flowers are blooming, and summer is nipping at our heels. It’s nearly time for BBQs and pool parties. For many, the three day weekend, known here in the USA as Memorial Day Weekend, is the unofficial kick-off to the summer season. Through the years and the BBQs and the extra day off work, the true meaning of Memorial Day has been lost. I cringe every time I hear “Happy Memorial Day”, a personal peeve of mine. In an effort to make the world (or at least my little corner of it) a more polite place, I’d like to share some important Memorial Day etiquette tips.
I have had the extreme pleasure and honor to work with some of the finest men and women on the planet, the men and women of the United States military. Through my charity work with the Pinup Patriettes I’ve learned a great deal about the sometimes complex realm of military etiquette. Memorial Day etiquette, however, isn’t military etiquette. Memorial Day etiquette is something every single American should know. Sadly, the majority of Americans don’t know the first thing about Memorial Day, save for summer parties and store sales. Many Americans believe Memorial Day is a day to honor veterans and active duty military members. Not so. Memorial Day is the day that we honor those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for their country. We honor the fallen.
Memorial Day was first observed after the Civil War when on May 30th, then known as Decoration Day, citizens would decorate the graves of fallen soldiers with flowers. Fast forward 100 + years, Memorial Day is now observed on the last Monday of May to honor the sacrifice of every American man and woman who have given their lives in the service of their nation. It is a solemn day, a sobering reminder of the cost of war and the price of freedom. So here are some Do’s and Don’ts to keep in mind this Memorial Day.
Do observe Memorial Day. It is proper to say you are observing Memorial Day rather than celebrating it. There are many ways to observe the holiday and honor the fallen: attend a Memorial Day service at a local cemetery, watch a Memorial Day procession (sometimes incorrectly referred to as a parade), volunteer with a local group to place flags on the graves of fallen veterans, even attend a patriotic bbq or pool party, whatever you do, keep the true meaning of the day present. Remember, someone gave their life for your three day weekend.
Don’t greet anyone with “Happy Memorial Day”. Remember, it is a solemn day, a day of remembrance. One wouldn’t offer up a cheerful “Happy 9/11” or “Happy funeral”, but that is essentially what a “happy Memorial Day” greeting is. I’ve heard all kinds of defense of and excuses for offering such a greeting: “I’m celebrating the lives of our soldiers” or “I’m showing how happy I am for my freedom”. While I realize no malice is intended, keep in mind to those who have actually lost someone, this sort of greeting is very insensitive. Memorial Day isn’t celebrated, it is observed.
Do fly the American flag at half-mast. There are etiquette protocols for raising a ceremonial half-mast flag. The Flag is sharply raised to full-mast (the top of the flag pole), and then solemnly lowered to half-mast. The Flag stays at half mast (in a mourning position) until noon, then it is raised is up again to full mast as a promise by the living to lift the memories of the fallen, to never forget, and to carry on the fight for freedom and liberty. The Flag should then be taken down at sundown. If your flag pole is stationary and the Flag cannot be raised up or down, then you may show observance for the day by flying a black ribbon or sash from the top of the pole. Please be sure to show the Flag proper respect by following regular flag etiquette.
Don’t (accidentally) disrespect the Flag. This one in particular is for the pinup girls planning patriotic photo shoots. Old Glory is not a carpet, a cape, or a blanket. Do not sit on the Flag. Do not stand on it or let it drape on the floor. If you want to use the Flag as a prop, display it using proper flag etiquette. Show your patriotism by showing Old Glory the resect she deserves.
Do take a moment at 3 PM to remember our fallen, to show your respect, to reflect. The National Moment of Remembrance is observed at 3 PM on Memorial Day. It is a moment where Americans, no matter where they are or what they are doing, stop to remember, observe a moment of silence, or listen to Taps. The Stater Brothers grocery chain officially observes the National Moment of Remembrance by making an announcement asking their customers to take that 60 seconds to honor the fallen.
Don’t be obnoxious with the sales. This is really more for shop keepers, but it also applies to consumers. I love to save money just as much as the next gal, but mobbing the local boutiques or electronic stores for a holiday discount seems, well, in poor taste. I’m not saying you shouldn’t shop or take advantage of a good deal, just remember why that store is offering a sale. If you are a shop keeper, again, remember what Memorial Day is really about. Be respectful and sensitive about offering “huge Memorial Day blowout sales”.
Do know what holiday you’re observing. On Memorial Day we honor those who have died in service of our country. On Veterans Day we celebrate and say thank you to the veterans who have previously served in the military. On Armed Forces Day we celebrate and say thank you to the men and women currently serving in the US military.
Do buy Buddy Poppies from the VFW. Outside grocery stores (especially the afore mentioned Stater Bros.) you will likely see representatives from the VFW selling Buddy Poppies, buy one…or twelve. These traditional flowers of Memorial Day, inspired by the poem In Flanders Fields, are made by disabled veterans and the proceeds go to veteran’s charities. “Honor the dead by helping the living.”
I hope you’ve found this little etiquette piece informative. If you’d like to learn more about the Pinup Patriettes and what we do…or leave a much appreciated donation, please visit us at pinuppatriettes.com