Thursday, May 10, 2007

A Holiday's Vicissitudes

Francis G. Blair, in the introduction to Memorial Day (1918) -- the booklet that I acquired last Saturday -- wrote about the holiday: "... Bitter as well as sweet memories were recalled and kept alive. To be sure, the lengthening years have softened and sweetened the bitterness and 'rebels' in time became 'confederates' and they in turn have been transformed into 'our brave boys in gray.' But, notwithstanding this growing spirit of generosity, the very flowers we spread helped draw afresh each year that ugly Mason and Dixon's line. Moreover, the fading ranks of the Grand Army of the Republic and the rapid increase of immigration of foreign-born peoples into the northern states abated, somewhat, the general interest and impressiveness of the sacred exercise of the great day. It was feared by some that Memorial Day was destined to become as meaningless and as little observed as the Fourth of July."

Meaningless and as little observed as the Fourth of July? It's hard to know what to make of that -- just a curmudgeonly sentiment? No one celebrates the Fourth the way it should be anymore! Or an astute observation? If so, of what -- that the Fourth of July in the 1910s was just a noisemaking affair with most of the patriotic content drained away? If that's the case, it would make me suspect that, like a lot of things, holidays cycle in importance over the decades, if they last at all.


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