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Meaning of holiday still stands

Although many traditional Memorial Day activities have been canceled or become limited in scope due to the coronavirus pandemic, COVID-19 has not defeated the important meaning of today’s national holiday.

Memorial Day remembers the men and women who died while serving in this country’s armed forces. The observance emanated from the Civil War, with more than two dozen cities and towns, including Boalsburg in nearby Centre County, claiming to be the holiday’s birthplace.

The holiday should not be confused with Veterans Day, which celebrates the service of all honorably discharged U.S. military veterans, whether or not they died while in this country’s service.

COVID-19 is an enemy that has produced a health crisis unlike any seen in this country for more than a century, but it is not capable of preventing Americans from remembering the ultimate sacrifices made throughout the history of this great land by the men and women who wore its military uniforms.

What a powerful holiday Memorial Day continues to be, even amid the challenges and distractions that this nation currently is enduring.

Perhaps today’s “Different Memorial Day” will cause millions of U.S. citizens to appreciate the holiday more in coming years, even those who were avid participants in the holiday’s events in years past.

Of course, today’s observance includes other important traditions. Many families place flowers or wreaths on the graves of deceased relatives, whether or not they served in the armed forces. Likewise, most people regard Memorial Day as the unofficial start of summer, when they look forward to outdoor activities, including picnics, boating, visiting state and amusement parks or attending sporting events – some of which will not be available this year.

But more importantly, many Americans today will be experiencing feelings of loss over not being able to attend patriotic activities that, to them, always have represented the foundation of the day.

To people who continue to harbor fears and uncertainties regarding COVID-19’s ultimate toll, news reports in recent weeks announcing cancellation of events such as downtown Altoona’s and Juniata’s Memorial Day parades, the Catholic War Veterans’ holiday parade from the Bavarian Hall to St. Mary’s Cemetery, plus the indefinite postponement of the 5th Ward Community Day, which would have been held Saturday, defined the serious problem at hand.

Although a relaxation of government-imposed restrictions is underway, many people will remain reluctant to venture out, preferring not to put themselves at any risk of contracting the virus.

For those people as well as others, an interesting and fun exercise today might be to reflect on the origin and subsequent history of this holiday, including the fact that Memorial Day originally was known as Decoration Day.

Memorial Day did not become the more common name of the holiday until after World War II, and not until 1967 did Memorial Day become the official name.

Presumably, most Americans, even the most patriotic among us, are unaware that Memorial Day has been called a “modern cult of the dead” because it incorporates Christian themes of sacrifice while uniting citizens of various faiths.

This is a divisive time in America when Memorial Day’s power to unite needs to spill over into this nation’s political arena and many other aspects of life.

COVID-19 is a tragedy still unfolding, but the divisiveness in America today is undermining this country’s strength in terrible ways also.

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