In the United States, Memorial Day is celebrated on the last Monday of May. People host barbecues, pool parties, beach days, and parades in the memory of soldiers past, present, and future who have died in the line of duty. With everything draped in red, white, and blue, it’s a dress rehearsal for the 4th of July and looks like a distinctively American holiday.
While Memorial Day was not recognized as an official federal holiday until 1971, it had been celebrated since the aftermath of the Civil War and was called Decoration Day (because people visited soldiers’ graves and decorated them with wreaths and flowers). Did you know that each year at 3 p.m. a national moment of remembrance is held? In Waterloo, New York, the official birthplace of Memorial Day, it might be hard to pause for this solemn moment over the noise of all the barbecues and fireworks.
But we’re not the only ones who lost soldiers in the name of freedom, and memorial days around the world honor their fallen, their patriotism, and their histories just as fervently, yet in their own unique way.
Here are a few countries that celebrate their own memorial days with traditions that range from solemn to jubilant.
In Russia, VE Day (Victory in Europe) is celebrated similarly to how we celebrate Independence Day on July 4th. Even in the face of COVID, parades gathered in Moscow to commemorate the end of World War II. Although VE Day is celebrated in the rest of Europe on May 8, Russia parties on May 9. While it was May 7 for the rest of Europe when Germany’s official surrender was signed (who planned to celebrate it as a national holiday the very next day on the 8th), it was already the 8th for Russia, who planned to party on the 9th.
The Netherlands also has its own day to commemorate soldiers and civilians who died in World War II and onward, called Dodenherdenking (Remembrance of the Dead). This takes place every year on May 4 and is similar to Israel because the whole country comes to a halt at 8 p.m. for a moment of silence. From 6 p.m. until sundown, all flags are flown at half-mast only to be immediately hoisted high into the air in time for Liberation Day the next morning.
In the United Kingdom, Remembrance Day is on November 11, which is similar to Veteran’s Day in the United States. This holiday, however, is about remembering those who fell during the First World War. This is where we see veterans, gravestones, and the Royal Family wearing red poppies, thanks to the poem“In Flanders Field” by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae. McCrae wrote the poem after losing a friend, Lieutenant Alex Helmer, during the Battle of Ypres in Flanders, Belgium. He noticed poppies growing next to Helmer’s makeshift grave, despite being surrounded by the desolation of the singed and shrapnel-torn battlefield. In the first lines of the poem, poppies are described as growing “Between the crosses, row on row”. Then the poem describes death and dying and being marked forever in Flanders’ field, before ending finally with “We shall not sleep, though poppies grow/In Flanders’ Field”. Poppies are worn in England (and around the world) because they symbolize veterans, hope, and respect.
Every year on January 15, Nigeria honors the Nigerian Armed Forces with Armed Forces Remembrance Day. This celebrates the end of the Nigerian Civil War in 1970. In a solemn event, the president and state governors hold ceremonies where they release doves, lay wreaths on the graves of soldiers, and honor the armed forces with a parade.
New Zealand and Australia celebrate Anzac Day on April 25 which remembers servicemen and women who died during the First World War. April 25 is also the anniversary of the landing at the Gallipoli peninsula, which the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) sought to occupy to open the borders as a crucial landing point for allies of the British Commonwealth during World War I. This day marked the beginning of Australia’s history as a newly independent country and a major world player in a global conflict.
Germany also commemorates World War I in November with Volkstrauertag. This holiday falls on the Sunday closest to November 16, which is the National Day of Mourning for servicemen and women who died since World War I. First observed in 1952, this tradition is extremely solemn; Volkstrauertag is also known as stiller Tag (silent day), so it’s common to find most businesses closed. Even music and dancing are prohibited or extremely frowned upon across the country.
No matter the different histories and traditions surrounding these memorial days, all of these countries have one thing in common: respect for their fallen. Across borders and oceans, this national pride is what links us all, leaving us on common ground.
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