When I was a little girl, everyone took off work on my birthday–May 30th–even if it fell on a weekday. I thought I was very special. Even my father stayed home to play with me. My mom cut bunches of pinky and white peonies to take to relatives (in a cemetery, which I thought was rather nice of her,) and we always had a party, sometimes with a cute goat cart and always with ice cream and cake.

It wasn’t until a got to school that I received the cruel awakening. I learned people weren’t celebrating my birthday but were actually mourning the dead. It was not a happy celebration, but a memorial. The townspeople called it Decoration Day.

“The 30th of May, 1868, is  designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country. “

And then, to make matters worse, in 1971 President Nixon declared my birthday a federal holiday. He called it Memorial Day and ordered that it be celebrated on the last Monday in May. I wasn’t so special anymore.

Although—when you think about it—it’s still extraordinary. My birthday became a three-day holiday for everyone.


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