Today is Confederate Memorial Day in the US state of South Carolina. State offices are closed and all non-essential state employees get the day off. The holiday was invented by a group of women in Georgia in 1874 to remember the end of the Civil War and “to pay honor to those who died defending the life, honor and happiness of the Southern women.”
The celebration quickly became popular across other former Confederate states. Today, a handful of states remember the failed separatists in April, although Texas has a Confederate Heroes Day in January. In South Carolina, the day was formalized as an official holiday in 2000, together with Martin Luther King Day and other federal holidays. The state’s Heritage Act shares the reasoning behind the celebration:
[Confederate soldiers] served their state under great hardships, and won the admiration of the world by their courageous fight against an enemy overwhelming in numbers and resources. Despite their hardships and personal sacrifices, these men took consolation in the belief that they would not be forgotten by their state or people.
But those soldiers, and memorials to them, have become the subject of fierce controversy in recent years, due to the Confederate states’ defense of human enslavement. And similarly controversial historical conflicts are remembered differently in other parts of the world—often with mourning or repentance.
Soldiers who ended up on the wrong side of history in Italy or Spain, for example, are studied in textbooks–without celebration—due to the moral and ethical circumstances of their work. In many countries, it is even illegal to publicly honor tarnished historical figures (like Mussolini in Italy) or to reproduce memorabilia of ideologies that have been nationally disavowed (Nazism in France). For illustration, here are a few imaginary holidays that would be the equivalent of Confederate Memorial Day around the world:
Italy: National Fascism Day
Germany: SS Remembrance Day
Russia: Red Terror Appreciation Day
Cambodia: Khmer Rouge Interrogators Day
European Catholic Countries: Day of the Crusader’s Sacrifice
Spain: Day of the Inquisition
Western Europe: International Colonizers Week (oh, wait)
China: Struggle Session Reenactment Day
South Africa: Apartheid Memorial Day
Australia: Child Removal Nostalgia Day
Correction, May 11, 9:27 EST: Confederate Memorial Day is not an official state holiday in North Carolina.