Memorial Day has always been my favorite secular holiday, in part because it is the most Catholic of all U.S. holidays. It is the only day of the year in which significant numbers of Americans (of all religious backgrounds) visit cemeteries to honor the dead, though their numbers (the honorers, not the honorees) are dwindling with each passing year. Memorial Day parades often appear more suited to Veterans Day—an understandable confusion among parade-goers, though less so among the veterans who march in the parades (and one that the veterans in my hometown would never have made). Parades that end at cemeteries, rather than at some arbitrary point (as the Memorial Day parade here in Rockford does), drive home the reason behind this holiday.
Over at Antiwar.com, Justin Raimondo has chosen to celebrate the holiday with a post entitled "Abolish Memorial Day." It is somewhat less provocative than the title suggests, though unless the reader is a libertarian, he is unlikely to find himself entirely in agreement with Justin. While making a good point about the collective amnesia from which we suffer in America, Justin exhibits a certain amnesia of his own, regarding Memorial Day as a time to remember the wars in which we've fought, especially those we lost or should not have fought at all, and to learn lessons from them. But while that may be a side effect of celebrating Memorial Day as it ought to be celebrated (rather than as a head start on summer), it is not point of this holiday.
In a way, it's the flipside of what Justin decries. Here in Rockford, current military hardware was in abundance at our parade, exhibiting an unhealthy preoccupation with war—a preoccupation that overshadows the memory of those who have lost their lives in the service of our country.
Scott P. Richert is editor at large for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, and Publisher for Our Sunday Visitor. He holds an M.A. in political theory from the Catholic University of America. He has been published in, among others, The Family in America, This World, and Humanitas. He is the Catholicism Expert for About.com.