Posted by: Larry Socha, Consular Officer
To a child growing up in Chicago, Memorial Day meant one thing – the swimming pools were finally open. Chicago can have a nasty winter bite like many cities in Ukraine, but the appearance of Memorial Day on the calendar meant that those cold winter days were long gone. Summer could officially begin.
However, the holiday that falls on the last Monday in May, one of the anchors of the summer triangle with Independence Day in July and Labor Day in September, represents more than just the opening of park district pools. I talked to many of my colleagues in the U.S. Embassy about the holiday on Monday and these three images kept recurring.
Flags: Memorial Day was first known as Decoration Day and its first observance occurred on May 1, 1865, the last year of the U.S. Civil War. Since that first Memorial Day, Americans remember all veterans who have died in military service. Here at the U.S. Embassy, as at buildings across the United States, the American flag will fly at the half-staff position, to remember the men and women who gave their lives in service to their country. At noon, the flag will be raised to the top of the pole to commemorate the living, those veterans of past wars and those brave soldiers who still fight to protect freedom today.
Barbecues: Like most American holidays, many people celebrate the day with family and friends around a table full of delicious food. In many U.S. states, the warm weather encourages families to gather in their backyards or parks where the smell of hamburgers, hot dogs, and other food fills the air. One common dessert for these patriotic summer holidays is the “flag cake.” A rectangular cake is decorated as an American flag with red strawberries for the stripes and blueberries for the stars. It would have to be a pretty big cake to fit all 7 red stripes and 50 blueberries for the stars, but a smaller version looks just as good and tastes even better.
Vacations: This weekend alone, almost 35 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more as they visit family, explore national parks, and enjoy street festivals. This week in America’s top tourism destination, New York City, “Fleet Week” begins with parades of ships, music, and movies along the piers of the city. Further west, in Yellowstone National Park, America’s oldest national park, all park entrances are open to welcome thousands of seasonal visitors to the park’s dramatic landscapes and famous geyser, Old Faithful.
So while the pools do open this weekend, Memorial Day represents much more for millions of Americans. It is truly a holiday to be celebrated with both solemn remembrance and summer excitement.