Commemorations

What holidays haven’t Americans hollowed out?

This year plenty of major merchandisers started displaying their Yuletide offerings and running Christmas ads so early these infringed on Halloween. And didn’t the whole month of November seem a ceaseless promotion for Black Friday?

Makes one wonder whether it’s the actual day deserving our attention instead of Thanksgiving. Or should the fourth Thursday in November just be regarded as the anticipatory feast day intended to fortify shopping strength before the true festive occasion?

Perhaps the emphasis on Christmas buying at the expense of autumn reflects some kind of anxiety engendered by Covid. Maybe if we dash through the middle pair of “-ber” months’ calendar highlights, we’ll shove the modern plague behind us so much faster.

That simple-mindedness might work for children. For adults, however, it shows a remarkable childishness.

How soon will some too clever marketeer make “Christmas in July” an event that’ll catch hold of vacationers’ fancies during summer’s heatwaves? It’s coming. Sacrilege isn’t the hurdle. Figuring out how to square Jack Frost nipping at noses when the need to rub sunscreen on them is. Besides, isn’t it tough being jolly knowing the dog days are soon to arrive and linger with the sort of persistence that may make Christmas resemble a mirage?

Few of our holidays haven’t been ceded to commercialism and consumer mania. Ostensibly the reordering of the calendar for less prominent days of recognition provides three-day weekends. Yet rather than taking those days to reflect and relax, we’re bombarded with promotions which pitch us to purchase ourselves into otherwise avoidable further debt.

All in the ultimate name of efficiency, I suppose. If the significant day fell midweek and observed then, who wouldn’t feel obliged to bridge the gap with personal time off either before or after depending its occurrence? If it fell on Tuesday, wouldn’t the inclination be to skip Monday? Or same on Thursday by taking Friday as well. As far as Wednesday, well, the two days before or after would just be the reason to slice another two days break off the grind.

Naturally off-the-cuff scheduling would disrupt commerce. Not only are three-day weekends boons for retailers but these also maintain orderly work structures. The thought that human caprice might make management react in nimble fashion strains regimentation.

After all, as Covid is educating a lot of employers, employees are increasingly becoming aware they’re more than two-legged mules turning millstones. Working people are realizing how vital, how valuable we truly are. Glad to see how that’s stressing those in charge. Only in America have supervisory personnel fooled working people into accepting it necessary to sacrifice theirs and others’ humanity and dignity for wages. In America there’s always been overemphasis on our vocations and little on who we are. The weakening of this mindset may be Covid’s one gift.

Renaming then repurposing our holidays is another way we’ve diminished them. For instance, take Decoration Day and Armistice Day. Or as both are now better known, Memorial Day and Veterans Day.

In this our time, the first honors all combatants who’ve given the ultimate for these United States; the second, distinguishes all who’ve served. Two indisputable acknowledgements. Except each overlay obscures specific histories.

Decoration Day honored Union soldiers who died in battle during the Civil War. Union soldiers only, not Confederates. As rebels, the latter were traitors. They will forever remain unworthy of any honor.

Not only did Union victory preserve our nation, it also released enslaved Americans. In fact, Decoration Day emerged from the gratitude of freedmen. Indeed, blue-coated Northern gunmen delivered them from slavery. “Grateful” is possibly too mild an epithet of what those Americans felt after the yokes dropped off their necks.

In an aside, too many right-wingers encouraged by that cur Donald Trump are wrongly equating indentured servitude with slavery. Indeed, with all honesty these misguided people will claim both segments shared the same deprivations. Not at all. Not in the least. Not even close.

The above is just another chapter in the hoary American legend perpetuated by some Anglo ethnics whose forebearers immigrated from Europe with two cents, okay, nothing to his or her name and by dint of hard work became a weepy, lionized, overwrought fable. On that side of the Atlantic, they were serfs or peasants. On this side of the ocean, they were exploited.

Indentured servitude was a pact between two parties. Upon fulfilling the obligation, the debtor gained his or her freedom. Who imagines any slave entered bondage voluntarily? Slaves were chattel, contraband, loot. They were regarded as property, nothing more. Less than human by their owners.

Until the Emancipation Proclamation and the Grand Army of the Republic, only “kind masters,” self-purchase, escape, or death gave slaves their liberty. Never forget that.

Ex-slaves were the impetus behind Decoration Day. Before national observation, freed Southern blacks cleaned the burial sites of Union dead interred in Dixie then garlanded the plots with flowers. Often picnics commemorating the saviors followed. No, that’s not sacrilegious. As Mexican Day of the Dead festivities illustrate, such is not only a way of blurring lines between temporal and ethereal realms it also keeps memories of the deceased alive among the living.

Until Congress renamed it, my family certainly observed Decoration Day. While my parents were too young to have been aware of many, if any, Union veterans while growing up in rural South Carolina, their parents likely encountered several across the postbellum decades. Indeed, my great-grandparents certainly saw those Yankees when they still marched in blue chasing rebs!

See how near American history remains?

To me, Armistice Day contained greater relevance than Decoration Day. In my adolescence some much older cousins who’d served as World War I doughboys – and still called the epoch that shaped their lives “The Great War” – remained among our family.

More so than World War II, this was the period from which the new emerged. Our new, our now.
On the global level, it established the United States as a world power – a world power, not the dominant power – for better and worse. The Great War’s aftermath also loosened American class distinctions. Cataclysm which begat industrial-scale slaughter rattled what had been a hidebound gentility.

Much is made of the war allowing the start of women to venture beyond paternalism’s cages. From garments and attitudes that constricted them to bobbed hair to less restrictive attire and boldness that germinated the flappers phenomena, these Jazz Age women flourished through all sorts of activities their Gilded Age mothers might’ve considered but could never have dared.

Not enough is mentioned how the Great War emboldened blacks. Freedom notwithstanding, then mainstream America did its utmost to marginalize the truest Americans possible. How true were those black Americans? When President Woodrow Wilson announced this country’s entry into World War I he stated it joined “to make the world safe for democracy.”

No doubt a good many blacks then wondered why Wilson hadn’t bothered making America safe for democracy first for them. After events since 2017, has that question lost any currency?

Ambivalent as those blacks were about involving themselves in the United States war effort, they rationalized that after demonstrating such fealty to a country that had abused them – when it didn’t neglect them – majority America would finally start recognizing the disenfranchised as full citizens, then treat them thusly. Current everyday life has proven those results spotty, no? Nonetheless like American women after the Great War, blacks’ experiences and contributions during the conflict emboldened subsequent generations.

One doesn’t get that vigor of whence our nation has traveled from “Memorial” and “Veterans” Days. Now, sacrifice and service, two noble notions that blanket the well-meant name changes, do not draw from the same urgent memories of the original remembrances.

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