Friday, May 28, 2010

Misremembering Memorial Day

“Memorial” from the Latin “memorilisbelonging to memory.

Over the years the true meaning of Memorial Day has faded more and more from public consciousness. It began as a solemn day of mourning in honor of our Civil War dead. It has degenerated into a celebration of barbeques, baseball, and "top 100 songs of all time" on the radio.

Ironic isn't it, that the nation has forgotten the meaning of a national day of remembrance?

So as you sit on a beach this weekend slathering sunscreen, or dancing between raindrops, consider the following:

In 1865, Henry C. Welles, a druggist in the village of Waterloo, NY, mentioned at a social gathering that honor should be shown to the dead of the Civil War by decorating their graves.

Townspeople adopted the idea wholeheartedly. Wreaths and bouquets were made for each grave. The village was decorated with flags at half-mast, evergreen boughs and black streamers.

The commander of the Grand Army of the Republic issued the first national recognition of Memorial Day in 1868. This was General Order No. 11 establishing "Decoration Day" (because the idea was to decorate the graves of soldiers.)

Decoration Day was first observed on 30 May 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. When the Civil War was raging the location of Arlington cemetery was a carefully chosen act of retribution. It was the confiscated estate of Robert E. Lee. Graves were place all the way up to his doorstep.

The South initially refused to acknowledge the day, honoring their dead on separate days. Several southern states continue to have an additional, separate day for honoring the Confederate war dead: January 19 in Texas, April 26 in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi; May 10 in South Carolina; and June 3 (Jefferson Davis' birthday) in Louisiana and Tennessee.

After World War I, the holiday was changed from honoring the Civil War dead, to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war.

It was now called Memorial Day.

During World War 1, some particularly bloody fighting occurred in Flanders along the French-Belgian border. A Canadian Doctor, John McCrae, visited the battlefield and noticed the only sign of life on the scarred landscape was the resilient little poppy. He penned a famous poem on a page torn from an autopsy book. It was entitled
"In Flanders Fields."

In Flanders Fields

By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD Canadian Army (1872-1918)

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

The poem inspired Moina Michael an American War Secretary with the YMCA, she was moved by McCrae's work and replied with her own poem:

We cherish too, the Poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies.

She then conceived of an idea to wear red poppies on Memorial Day in honor of those who died serving the nation during war. She sold poppies to her friends with the money going to benefit servicemen in need. Later a Madam Guerin from France learned of this new custom, when she returned to France she made artificial red poppies to raise money for the war orphaned children and widowed women. This tradition spread to other countries.

And it's why you will see men and women from American Legion Posts selling little plastic red poppies at street corners this weekend. On TV you may also see images of the soldiers of the 3d U.S. Infantry as they
place small American flags at each of the more than 260,000 gravestones at Arlington. . The commemorations at Arlington on Memorial Day are a lasting connection back to its Civil War origins.

In 1966 President Lyndon Johnson signed a proclamation that changed the observance date from May 30th and made it into a 3 day weekend.

Many Veterans groups contend that the weekend has weakened the meaning of the day. Turning it from a day of taking stock to one of taking off for the beach. From an end of life to a beginning of Summer occasion. In 1999 Senator Inouye, a World War II veteran, introduced a bill to the Senate to restore the observance back to May 30th.

Instead, the "National Moment of Remembrance" resolution was passed on Dec 2000 which asks that on May 30th at 3 p.m. local time, for all Americans "To voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to 'Taps."

“Taps” is another Civil War connection. The 24-note piece is a variation on a French military bugle call to tell soldiers to cork their bottles, close their taps and go to bed. During the Civil War the Union Army adapted it for their lights out command at bedtime and it quickly found its way into funeral services. It acquired lyrics along the way.

Day is done,gone the sun, from the Lakes from the hills from the sky, all is well, safely rest, God is nigh.

Fading light,dims the sight, And a star gems the sky gleaming bright,From afar, drawing nigh, falls the night.

Thanks and praise, For our days, Neath the sun, Neath the stars, Neath the sky,

As we go, This we know, God is nigh."

If you do decide to honor our fallen, New York is awash with war memorials. There's the Vietnam Veterans memorial on Water Street in the Financial District. A monument to Korean War soldiers in Battery Park (financed by a Korean Electronics company.) There's a World War I monument on Fifth Ave just outside Central Park across from the Frick Museum, a memorial to The Spanish-American war at the 59th Street entrance to Central Park (paid for by William Randolph Hearst who played a major role in their deaths.). At 59th and Fifth you'll find Grand Army Plaza named for the Civil War's Grand Army of the Republic, as well as Grand Army Plaza at the entrance to Brooklyn's Prospect Park.

It doesn’t really matter where you do your remembering, just that you do.

So this weekend don't forget the sunscreen and the Kingsford charcoal, and try to remember the fallen as well.


Friday, May 7, 2010

The Origins of Mother's Day

Whatever you call her: Kuan Yin, Ishtar, Lakshmi, Persephone, Shakti, Kali, or just plain Mom --the concept of the Divine Mother, the sacred feminine, the giver of life is as old as the hills.

Cultures have honored and worshipped mothers through history.
Whether it was the Greeks and their mommy goddess Rhea, the Romans and their Latin momma Cybele or the Celts with Brigid.

Many European goddesses were transformed into saints, thus Saint Brigid. The veneration of Mary the Mother of Jesus is another manifestation of the phenom.

So how did Mother’s Day become a celebration of a household goddess like your very own mother?

Here’s the quick explanation.

You may have noticed an entry printed in your dayplanner a few weeks ago called
Mothering Sunday. In 17th Century Britain on the 4th Sunday in Lent the scrubs of society –apprentices and servants were allowed to return home to visit their mums. They’d bring mom a fruitcake called a "mothering cake". Apparently this custom petered out, only to rear its head again during WWII.

Meanwhile across the pond.

In 1870, Julia Ward Howe author of The Battle Hymn of the Republic was sickened by the carnage of the Franco-Prussian War. She issued a call for peace at an international peace conference and began promoting the idea of a "Mother's Day for Peace" to be celebrated on June 2, it was to honor peace, motherhood and womanhood By 1873, eighteen American cities were holding a Mother's Day for Peace celebration. Bastan celebrated the Mam’s Day for Peace for at least 10 years. The movement ran out of dough, and then ran out of steam.

Fast forward to 1905.

A woman named Anna Jarvis swore at her mother's gravesite in 1905 that she would dedicate her life to establishing a Mother's Day to honor mothers, living and dead.

In 1907 She gave out white carnations, her mother’s favorite flower at a local church. Eventually white carnations became a symbol for departed moms, red carnation to honor living moms. Jarvis quits her job and worked fulltime lobbying to make Mother’s Day an official holiday.

Basically it’s hard for a politician to go against mom or apple pie so in 1912 West Virginia became the first state to declare an official Mother's Day.

In 1914 Pres. Woodrow Wilson signs a bill establishing Mother’s Day nationwide. It specifically emphasized women's role in the family (not as activists in the public arena, like Howe's Mother's Day)

The day kinda took off from there.

Jarvis was none too happy about what eventually became of her special day. She was appalled by the commercialization of Mother's Day and said: "I wanted it to be a day of sentiment, not profit." She opposed the selling of flowers and greeting cards: "a poor excuse for the letter you are too lazy to write."

Anna Jarvis never had children of her own. She died in 1948, blind and penniless and was buried next to her mother.

But on a happy note ----Hallmark Cards stock price is soaring.

Happy Mother’s Day to you and the beautiful goddess who brought you into the world.


Marie's Bouncing Baby Boy

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Origins of Cinco de Mayo

Contrary to popular opinion “Cinco de Mayo” isn’t Spanish for: 5 ounces of Mayonnaise.

The fifth of May was a glorious day in the military annals of Mexico.

Poor Mexico, it had only gained independence from Spain in 1810. On its 36th birthday it was invaded by the US (Which is how we got California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.) After a Civil War in 1858 Mexico was flat broke.

So in 1862 those pesky French took advantage of the fact that we Americans we’re preoccupied with our Civil War. Using the excuse of some unpaid debts, the French invaded Mexico’s Gulf Coast and began a march towards the Capital. Their big idea was to install Napoleon III’s cousin, Archduke Maximilian of Austria, as ruler of Mexico.

However, a funny thing happened on the way to Mexico City.

On the 5th of May, Cinco de Mayo, the French army encountered strong resistance at the Mexican forts of Loreto and Guadalupe. There, a poorly armed militia of 4,500 Mexicans kicked some French derriere. They defeated an army of 6,500 Frenchmen fabulously outfitted in uniforms by Coco Channel, saddlebags by Prada.

Unfortunately, the victory was short lived.
Napoleon ( Napster 3.0 ---Napoleon III , who was Napoleon Bonaparte’s nephew ) sent 30,000 more troops and captured Mexico City one year later. Which is how for three years (1864-1867) the Archduke of Austria happened to be the ruler of our neighbor to the south. You know, you just can’t make this stuff up.

What happened to the Emperor Of Mexico?
The US eventually pressured the French into withdrawing (We cut off their supply of Jerry Lewis movies and they dropped the chalupa.)

In 1867 Max was captured by Mexican troops under Benito Juarez. He was tried and executed by firing squad. His body was shipped back to Austria where it lies entombed in Vienna in the Imperial Crypt. The inscription on his tomb reads: Yo Tien Taco Bell.

In Mexico the major celebrations for Cinco de Mayo are in the state of Puebla where the battle took place. However, here in the US, Cinco de Mayo has become kind of a St. Patrick’s Day or Columbus Day. A day for Mexican-Americans to celebrate and take pride in Mexican history. A Kiss me I’m Mexican day.

And that’s about all there is to say about the fifth day of May.

Adios, Vaya con dios.

I fart in the general direction of the French.

Archduke Dano

Emperor of Nada