Monday, January 21, 2008

Holiday Meaning

I didn't do anything special for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

I feel guilty about that.

I knew about the holiday, of course, and I know about King.

But knowing about King and taking a few moments to remember why there's a day named after him are two separate matters.

I think many of us are in the same boat about our holidays in general. Veterans Day, Presidents' Day, Memorial Day, Columbus Day, Independence Day (and Victory over Japan Day for those of us in Rhode Island, the only state that still marks it as a holiday). These holidays kind of pass us by in the blur of our lives. We know they're there, but we've forgotten why.

We know why there's Christmas, Easter, Hanukkah, Yom Kippur, Ramadan and other religious days. We know why there's Thanksgiving. Most of us pause for momentary reflection on these days (depending on religious persuasion and nationality, of course). We remember why they're special, even sacred.

But not the other holidays. Can anyone name the presidents for which Presidents' Day is named? I would say Washington and Lincoln, and I'd be guessing after that. Maybe Jefferson? Teddy Roosevelt? I'm just not sure.

But I'm sure that most of you don't know the answer either. (It is below.)

I'm not casting blame. These holidays come, and they go, and sometimes I scarcely notice. I spent nearly the entire King Day holed up working on the syllabus for my college class and some lesson plans. I spent Independence Day watching the annual parade in our town and grilling with my wife, father and stepmom. I couldn't tell you what I did for Veterans Day.

Year before last, I did do something on Veterans Day. I went to a memorial ceremony at the old town cemetery. I walked there, about two miles from where we live. I wanted to pay my respects. I was also curious. The ceremony was held on a hill, just off an overlook of Narragansett Bay. It was early morning, and the air was crisp. There was dew on the graves, and the miniature flags planted in the ground flapped in the breeze.

Dozens of veterans, young and old, dressed in their uniforms, were there. They snapped to attention when the national anthem was played. They stood in silent salute when the names were read of veterans who died that year. They even applauded some of the politicians who spoke.

I was happy I had gone. I felt like I had taken the time to remember the importance of Veterans Day. I saw how important remembering is in the eyes of those who had served our country. But I felt guilty I had never shown my face at a ceremony like this before.

I had forgotten what the holiday was about.

Today, I forgot what the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday is about.

I'm not the only one.

Let's remember next time.

(Presidents' Day – Honors all presidents, but originally made a holiday to honor two iconic presidents, Lincoln and Washington, whose birthdays were in February.)

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