Friday, May 22, 2009

May 21 2009

Memorial Day is here, so it’s time to… clean the swimming pool? Arrange the lawn furniture? Slather the hamburger bun with condiments and break out the beer, wine and spirits?

Hold on! What ever happened to arranging springtime flowers suddenly in bloom on veterans’ graves as Taps is heard wistfully just over the hill? Or teaching kids by example how they should honor those who died to ensure their freedom by observing their names on battlefield tombstones, columns or inscriptions?

I know Americans are urged to pause where they stand at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day each May 26 to recall and honor those who fell in service to the nation. It took then U.S. president Bill Clinton to sign into law on December 28, 2000 the National Moment of Remembrance Act to jog the minds of Americans about nodding their heads to fallen heroes.
After all, due observance for the war dead can hardly be achieved in a hammock, sparking the barbecue or popping open another brewski.

Often it looks like rather than remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice, Americans just seize the opportunity to enjoy summer’s first breakout weekend.

For more formal ritual and pageantry to honor the dead, you need to go back to 1868, three years after the end of the Civil War, to when Decoration Day was proclaimed to drape war graves with garlands of newly-sprung flowers. It was at the Arlington National Cemetery astride the Potomac that May 30 was proclaimed Decoration Day, to be accompanied by speeches and attendance by leading military generals and politicians.

And young people were urged to show up at cemeteries as well so that they could learn from the examples of fallen heroes.

Soon after the first World War, Memorial Day as it came to be known as expanded to honor the American dead from all that country’s battles over time.

Days to honor the battlefield dead are observed the world over, especially in North America and Europe where the many dead from the first two world wars somberly hit home.

The Dutch also observe their own freedom from the Second World War on May 4, which comes a day before actual liberation from Nazi Germany on May 5, 1945. Israel has its Memorial Day a day before Independence Day, which falls on 5 Iyar, according to the Hebrew calendar, or the anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948.

And Australia and New Zealand honor their war dead on April 25, to recall in particular young countrymen who died at Gallipoli during the First World War.

Flower-laying, formal tributes to the dead, parades and pageantry, that’s optional as part of all the above-mentioned holidays. What’s mandatory is taking time out from the workaday world, to gather with friends and family and cook food to be eaten in the house or outside.

And not surprisingly, the nation’s brewers seize the opportunity of May 26 with TV ads and in-store promotions to boost beer sales on Memorial Day, which stands just behind the Fourth of July as the biggest beer holiday of the year.

Nothing goes with patriotism like chugging the suds, it turns out, whether that be micro- or macro-brewed product, or premium or lite brands.

Leave it to beer makers, locked in battle for market share, to roll out those patriotic, nostalgic TV ads this week, you know the ones with crowds applauding returning soldiers, the stars and stripes ever flying in the background.

Why? To position their brand as America's beer. Oh, and to honor the war dead.

That goes without saying. With flowers. Evidently.

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