How do you celebrate Memorial Day? Do you put up star spangled flags in your front yard to commemorate the nation’s brave, fallen soldiers? Perhaps you participate in a local parade, or have an annual barbecue with your family. Memorial Day marks an important day on which the people of the United States join in remembrance of those who have died for our protection. It is incredibly important to remember all of the courageous men and women who have defended our country, and I believe it is also valuable to take a few moments to honor foreign soldiers who died in their own fights as well. For this reason, I find it interesting to think about how our country and how foreign countries reserve days to commemorate their dead heroes.
In the United States, the last Monday of every May serves as a day to memorialize United States citizens who have died while in the U.S. military. Today, Americans tend to observe the holiday by visiting cemeteries, getting together with friends and family, and walking in or watching local parades. This day was declared a national holiday in 1971, but its origins lie in the period following the Civil War. This makes sense given the staggering amount of Americans who died after this internal war and the need that grew out of it for national cemeteries. Every spring following the end of the war, Americans picked up the tradition of laying flowers on the graves and saying words in memory of the fallen soldiers. These types of customs have evolved into the Memorial Day that we know and celebrate today.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the northern hemisphere, Russia has a similar day to our Memorial Day called Victory Day. Russia observes Victory Day every year on May 9, memorializing Nazi Germany’s surrender to the Allies in 1945. On that day, Russian citizens remember the millions of soldiers who died during World War II. European countries further west who fought with the Allies also celebrate the 1945 surrender, but call it V-E Day. Interestingly, because of the time difference between Russia and western Europe, Germany surrendered on May 9 Russian time and May 8 Western European time. So, Victory Day is celebrated on the 9th, while V-E Day is celebrated on the 8th.
In Israel, the people celebrate Yom Hazikaron on the fourth of the Hebrew month of Iyar, May 10 of this y ear. Yom Hazikaron translates to “Memorial Day” and is a day of remembrance for fallen soldiers and for citizens killed as a result of political violence and terrorism. Several thousand miles south, Australians and New Zealanders observe Anzac Day on April 25. Anzac Day marks the day of Australia’s and the Kiwi forces’ first military action during World War I.
Meanwhile, citizens in the Netherlands honor their dead on Dodenherdenking, or “Remembrance Day.” The May 4 holiday honors the Dutch citizens and soldiers who have died in conflicts since World War II. While the U.S observes a moment of silence on their Memorial Day at 3 p.m., those in the Netherlands honor their fallen with two minutes of silence at 8 p.m.
In a different part of the world, the United Kingdom celebrates their Remembrance Day on November 11, which was the day of armistice between Germany and the Allies at the end of World War I. (America marks that date as Veterans Day) To honor the day, UK citizens wear poppies, a flower that bloomed even during the most terrible bombings and periods of chaos during the war. France also has a day of remembrance on the 11th of November which they call Armistice de 1918. On this day, the French honor the dead by laying flowers on soldiers’ tombs and next to French monuments like the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
Celebrations like Memorial Day, Armistice, Dodenherdenking, and Victory Day are common in many more places about the world. Nations like Canada, Germany, and Belgium also observe days to honor their dead in ways similar to the United States. The commonality of memorializing the dead is a great indication of the humanity that lives on in the world despite all of the wars and conflicts. This Memorial Day, join in with this worldwide tradition and remember those millions of men and women around the world who died in battle protecting their countries with incredible bravery.