6 Reasons Why Having Places to Go Memorial Day Weekend Mean More To Us Than Ever
Memorial Day: What’s in a Weekend?
The smell of gunpowder peppers the air with a haze that would have made any musketeer jealous. The fireworks are in full cannonade, and everyone at this town festival is watching lakeside with a cold one in their hand. The mood is fat and happy, fueled partially by burnt, over-priced hot dogs and iced treats, all sold at mobile stands which pimple the closed off main street like tourist-tents, designed to draw every last dollar out of everyone who hasn't yet booked their Memorial Day hotel deals out of town. Somewhere some generic classic rock music is playing, as people saunter by the current spectacle - all of them key participants in age old tradition of finding places to go Memorial Day Weekend, and living the heck out of it for one great, star-spangled day. But is this the really what this Memorial Day Weekend is all about? Or is there more?
The truth is that the Memorial Day travel and celebration experience - both as a holiday and as a time of remembrance, has become much more to us as a country, as a culture, and as a collective social tradition, than even we would (I suspect) care to admit. And without rehashing every clickbait article on the internet talking about the finer historical points of Memorial Day, let’s step back from retail raucous for a minute, and give this momentous holiday its due diligence in terms of what it is and why we’re celebrating it, before diving into this claim. To put it succinctly, Memorial Day:
Is an American holiday, observed on the last Monday of May, which is observed to honor the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military.
Happens to fall on the last Monday of May.
Was first called Decoration Day following the Civil War and it didn’t really become an official federal holiday until 1971.
Finds its official birthplace as Waterloo, New York, according to the Federal Government, which stated this in 1966.
Unofficially (and for many, officially) denotes the beginning of the summer season.
So that’s the blow-by-blow on what it is, and why we take the time to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrificing defending our country against those who would take away our liberties. But beyond the historical significance, it’s also fitting that Memorial Day has become a milestone in its own right, for many people in our nation as an important date that signifies a lot more than you might think. And while the prospect of not observing this day might not really stop the world from turning, it would have a lot of unintended consequences. So let’s break it down,... beyond the obvious respect due to our servicemen and women, why is this day so important for us to observe?
1 | The First Vacation of the Year Keeps Everything In Gear
We already know that Memorial Day marks the beginning of the summer vacation season while Labor Day marks the end of this blessed, ubiquitously acknowledged time when families plan holiday trips, college kids idle their way through concerts and festivals, and the rest of us find excuses to take some merciful time off. But more importantly, it's literally the first vacation you can really take since the beginning of the year. Think about that for a moment,... while many people do work at companies that afford them the PTO (Paid Time Off) on a flexible schedule that allows for discretionary time off, the reality is that not everyone is so fortunate. True, the workaholic in many of us tends to masochistically ascribe value to extended weekends as our chance to finally get caught up, after all - the office is quiet and there are no calls or emails bombarding you. But, resisting the allure to work during your three day, government sanctioned respite also adds up to three big benefits:
Your Health - Working interminably as you Gollum-hunch over your Macbook isn’t good for your health. Studies now show that working more than 55 hours per week actually increases the risk of stroke and heart disease.
Your Enjoyment - Happy people work harder. So in a sense, taking that extended Memorial Day Weekend will allow you to recharge mentally and enable you to focus more on Tuesday.
Your Productivity - A study with Boston University School of Management uncovered that managers could not discern between those who worked 80 hours per week and those who pretended to work as much. That being said, maybe it’s a good idea to take that time off?
Bottom line, if you’re thinking about using Memorial Day Weekend to get some extra work done. Stop. Give your body and mind some needed R&R. On Tuesday, everyone will be just as hungover (or rested) as you are, so there’s really no need to penalize yourself unnecessarily.
2 | Picking Places Means Making Memories
All the best memories are made on memorial day weekend. BBQ bonanzas, fantastic fireside stories and honor guard ceremonies at your local cemetery, POW Memorial, or VA are all Memorial Day day-trips you should do at least once in your life. But did you know that these travel memories can actually change the world? It’s true. "Family holidays are valued by children, both in the moment and for long afterward in their memory," psychologist and best-selling author Oliver James explained in a recent interview. "It's all about talking nonsense with your parents, sharing an ice cream and moments of time in which your interests are genuinely taken into account. So if you're going to spend money on something, it's pretty clear which option makes more sense."
In addition to this, it’s now known that traveling with your kids also spurs on brain development due to the experiences that combine social, physical, cognitive, and sensory interaction. A recent report published deduced that 55% of adults felt that their past happy vacation memories stayed with them, and affected them for the rest of their lives in one fashion or another. And going beyond these memories, research now suggests that additional lasting benefits can be gained from taking advantage of leisure travel moments, such as increased affection with family members, better behaviour in an academic environment school and at home, an elevated sense of ambition for their future, and many other positive outcomes. Some scientists have put forward the concept of vacations (even short weekend ones) as ‘happiness anchors’ – or moments in time that can be extremely powerful in bringing relief and lowering stress levels when reflected upon, in the course of everyday life. So maybe taking advantage of Memorial Day’s first break of the year really can change you for the better… one cheerful memory at a time.
3 | Gratitude Keeps Us Grounded
Memorial Day and the places, people and performances surrounding this date are about MORE than just travel,… it's about remembering - and that gratitude keeps us grounded, both culturally and practically, in a lot of ways. Moreover, gratitude keeps people grounded in general and helps us reconnect with the past.
To that end, congress passed a law in the year 2000 that requires all Americans to stop what they are doing at 3pm on Memorial Day to honor those who have died serving the United States. When this moment rolls around on this Memorial Day, do yourself a favor - pause in silence for 1 minute,... just 60 seconds; an act of national unity and personal gratitude. You’ll be surprised at how good this feels.
As a side note, 3:00 PM was chosen as the ideal time for this remembrance because it is precisely at this time when we tend to be enjoying our freedoms the most. The courage to create a conscious moment of memory and silence can be awe-inspiring… Major League Baseball games come to a standstill, race tracks go silent, train whistles sound loudly around the country, and millions pause in their tracks.
Gratitude is also giving, which is why (if you want to take this a step further), you can honor our fallen heroes by volunteering or donating money to support organizations that help take care of the families of these fallen soldiers. If everyone simply took $5 worth of beer or coffee money on this day and set it aside,... just one less drink or snack in a vacation weekend that (admittedly) is typically swimming in food, beverage and celebration… just $5 donated to someone who can really use it through a reputable charity, or even writing a personal letter on the back of a postcard to military families (like we did last year at our Blue Tree Resort in Orlando, FL) thanking them for everything they’ve done - because nothing feels quite like a personal, heartfelt letter from someone you don’t even know, saying “Thanks.”
At Westgate Resorts we continue the tradition of saying “Thank You” by honoring the thousands of U.S. military, veterans, their family members and Gold Star families (families who have lost a loved one in the service of our country) from across the nation by giving away 1,500 free vacations for military, including a free Orlando vacation getaway at Westgate Vacation Villas & Town Center Resort, May 3-6th. Our commitment to the military community and their loved ones has resulted in giving away more than 20,000 free nights to veterans and their families over the past seven years. Join us in spirit on this day, as we honor those who have cared for us in the ultimate way.
4 | Exploring Is In Our Blood
Beyond all of these great and altruistic aspects of an extended vacation weekend, there are also some hidden cultural influences, mainly - the spirit of adventure. Americans (in particular) have never been content to stay in one place, day after day, without (at least) the occasional foray into the wild,... even if over time, the wild became less wilderness and more backyard barbeque. And adventure being relative to its beholder, with all things considered, Americans still launch off on leisure travel ventures during this sacred weekend with a ferocity unmatched. AAA projections estimate that over 39 million Americans travel 50 miles or more away from home on Memorial Day weekend, with this volume increasing year over year, despite concerns over budget, security, and even increased prices in gas and baggage fees.
Perhaps the adventure of setting out this Memorial Day (on the road or in the air) is the discovery of freedom in its purest form,... travel without borders and the exploration of destinations and diversions where they are to be found. Simply put, we don’t need any expensive gear, death-defying thrills, or even exotic international locales to fulfill the age old mantra, that - adventure is where you find it. On this weekend, of all weekends, this is especially true as we honor the spirit and courage of those who, in the ultimate spirit of sacrifice, laid the path for our own adventures,.. and whose deeds we can, in part, share with in the spirit of remembrance and freedom as we commemorate their lives by consciously celebrating our own.
5 | Renown That Reaches Beyond Borders
Although Memorial Day is a National American Holiday, the spirit of remembering our collective heroes reaches beyond borders. Over time, many traditions on different days have developed in neighboring countries that align with the best aspects American Memorial Day Holiday, such as:
Remembrance Day (England) - Celebrated on November 11th, Remembrance Day officially commemorates the ceasing of hostilities in World War I. In England the British Royal Family takes two minutes of silence beginning at 11:00 AM local time. Wreaths of poppies are laid at war memorials and smaller poppies are worn on clothes to signify the day.
Anzac Day (Australia / New Zealand) - Observed on April 25th, this day is the remembrance (and date) of the first major military battle(s) fought by Australian and New Zealand forces in World War I. Commemorative services and parades with former military are common, as is the game called ‘two-up’, which is a game (reportedly played by soldiers in World War I) re-enacted as a gambling game on Anzac Day, and involves betting which way pennies will land on a table.
Armistice Day (Belgium) - Also celebrated on November 11th, Belgium memorializes the end of WWI with a Last Post ceremony at Menin Gate in Ypres. This bugle call (played on brass to mark the end of the day), is now a symbol to remember Belgium’s fallen soldiers. Wreaths of poppies and flowers are showered from the top of the gate during this moving ceremony.
6 | Courage For The Future & The Promise of Peace
All other virtues aside, perhaps the most important thing about Memorial Day is that it gives us courage for the future, and the promise of peace. What does traveling have to do with any of that (you might ask)? Simple. Travel means exploring the unknown, both outside our everyday world and also inside ourselves. Travel pushes boundaries, and captures the spirit of courage, while at the same time promising the respite of peace and relaxation at the end of a long day’s activities. It keeps us humble in knowing that the world is a big place, and there are people and causes bigger than ourselves that span continents and even eras. It also brings us back to everything that’s good in our life, moments that matter and make all the difference in the world. In a sense, travel personifies the best of the human spirit, and Memorial Day travel reminds us of those whose unquenchable spirit drove them to make the ultimate sacrifice. Maybe the (now famous) English graffiti artist Banksy was right on point when he scrawled this expression:
“A person dies twice: once when they take their last breath, and later, the last time their name is spoken."
Together, we can keep every veteran alive.
So Where To This Memorial Day?
Still think that sitting home on Memorial Day is good idea? Or maybe you’re feeling like it’s all been done and that lakeside festival beer-blowout just doesn’t have the same appeal it did five years ago? Remember that Memorial Day weekend is about more than just flags and fanfare,... it’s more than just an old tradition - it’s a spirit, a culture, an energy that old arrives once a year, wrapped in red, white and blue, and beckons to the patriotism and passion of young and old alike. Obviously, everyone’s situation is different and (to be sure) a lot of folks have commitments and perhaps limitations that might keep them closer to their home base on Memorial Day Weekend, but if you can, think about stepping outside your comfort zone this weekend of heroes. Give yourself the first real break of the year as you take the time to reconnect with yourself. Start some new traditions and make some memories that matter. Take a moment to remember the cost of freedom and take some time to quiet the world for a while. Reach beyond your own personal borders and make an unlikely friend out of a travel acquaintance. And take a leap of courage, knowing that a restful time of relaxation is waiting on the other side.
Will the country stop being the shining city on a hill without our willingness to keep doing these things? Maybe not. But maybe it’s our willingness to do these very things that makes the country worth having. Now stop reading and get traveling (and check out some sweet vacation ideas on the Westgate Travel Blog.
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