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Memorial Day Goes Virtual as Lockdowns Drag On



Volunteers Wearing Face Mask while Placing U.S. Flag on Veterans Gravesides | Featured

When you think of a typical Memorial Day weekend, it usually conjures images of backyard barbecues, veterans parades, and somber ceremonies of remembrance for fallen US war heroes, but this year is anything but typical and Memorial Day is no exception.

All across the country, social distancing and other pandemic-related restrictions upended many of the usual Memorial Day traditions. However, many Americans didn’t let the new rules stop them from celebrating the holiday. In many small towns and cities, the usual festivities were replaced with virtual substitutes and social-distance-friendly alternatives. Despite all the uncertainty facing the country, millions of Americans found ingenious ways to honor the nation’s fallen heroes.

Memorial Day dates back to the 1800s. It was originally celebrated on May 30th, but in 1971, the US began observing the national day of remembrance on the last Monday in the month of May. Since its early beginnings as a day set aside to decorate the graves of fallen Civil War heroes, the holiday has evolved into a permanent fixture of American culture and an annual milestone that marks the unofficial start of summer.

Communities across America have unique, time-honored traditions for celebrating the holiday, but this year, cancellations of in-person events forced hundreds of veteran and community organizations to shift their Memorial Day events online. In spite of the adversity, communities across the nation united in remembrance of the patriots that paid the ultimate price.

In Chicago, a Memorial Day parade has been taking place in the city’s North Side for decades. However, with the city still under strict lockdown restrictions, it was impossible for the parade planners to run the event this year, but that didn’t stop the organizers from keeping the tradition going in 2020. The organization that runs the event, the Wellington-Oakdale Old Glory Marching Society, decided to host the parade online for the first time ever in its 56-year history. The event will feature most of the same elements as the live parade, including a Pledge of Allegiance recital from local neighborhood children. Organizers also encouraged celebrants to share videos and photos of themselves marching in order to maintain a sense of community amongst local celebrants.

The pandemic has also displaced another major Memorial Day tradition, the backyard barbecue. Many Americans will undoubtedly decide to keep the tradition intact, but some cautious celebrants will likely take a more conservative approach to the annual cookout. Having a meal with friends in the backyard certainly sounds innocent enough, but some experts are warning that we should consider skipping the tradition this year.

“As soon as you have a shared bowl of chips… hands go into it, hands go in mouth, hands back into the bowl… When you have an infectious disease running through the community, we really need to stop that.” Erin Bromage, an associate biology professor at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, told CNN. Bromage also warned that its not the best time to get chummy with your extended circle of friends and loved ones. “When we drink a little, we get a little closer, we get a little more touchy… we just need to be careful with that.”

However, the main focus of Memorial Day isn’t backyard barbecues or parades. The holiday is about remembering the brave men and women that died fighting for this country, and the pandemic didn’t stop the country from honoring their sacrifice.

In Minneapolis, the Fort Snelling National Cemetary’s will hold its Memorial Day ceremonies online. The gathering typically draws 50,000 visitors, but this year it will be limited to a small ceremony with fewer than ten personnel from the cemetery’s staff. “We will lay a wreath, we will have a moment of silence, and we will play taps,” said the cemetery’s deputy director in a statement to local news outlets. “Our goal here… is to make sure we provide a dignified and honorable service for those veterans who paid the ultimate sacrifice,” he added.

However, not every event can be replicated digitally, so some areas put their traditions on hold this year. In Southern New Jersey, over 25 organizations come to the Gloucester Couty Veteran’s Cemetery to adorn all 3,000 graves with American flags every Memorial Day, but county officials axed the ceremony in 2020. The Gloucester Country Board of Freeholders released a statement that called the decision, “crucial to flattening the curve”.

The resilience of this year’s Memorial Day celebrants is a testament to American resolve at a time when the country needs it more than ever. Memorial Day isn’t exactly a ‘happy’ holiday, but it plays a crucial role in shaping American identity. The national day of remembrance instills a much-needed sense of community that has become noticeably lacking in an era marked by identity politics.

The coronavirus crisis is pushing an already divided America further and further apart, and it’s sparked very polarizing debates on the very nature of liberty and freedom. However, we should always remember that we’re all on the same team. This year, Memorial Day reminds us that we are all Americans and America is worth fighting for.

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