Some thoughts and facts about the holiday that we in the United States celebrate this weekend.
Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day and was initiated to honor the soldiers of the Union and Confederate armies who died during the American Civil War.
I remember it as Decoration Day from my childhood and knew it was a time that people went to cemeteries to put flowers on grave-sites. I didn’t know that the holiday had been established specifically for honoring military men. I thought that all the people who have died should be remembered, and I still think that today.
So on this Memorial Day I remember specifically my husband and my mother and my father. They are the most recent loved ones to die, so their memories are closest to my heart right now.
Celebrations honoring Civil War heroes started the year after the war ended. The establishment of a public holiday was meant to unify the celebration as a national day of remembrance instead of a holiday celebrated separately by the Union and Confederate states. By the late 19th century, the holiday became known as Memorial Day and was expanded to include the deceased veterans of all the wars fought by American forces. In 1971, Memorial Day became a federal holiday.
The original national celebration of Decoration Day took place on 30 May 1868. When Memorial Day became a federal holiday, it was given the floating date of the last Monday in May.
SOME MEMORIAL DAY TRADITIONS
- Every Memorial Day, the U.S. flag is quickly raised to the tops of flagpoles, slowly lowered to half-mast, and then raised again to full height at noon. The time at half-mast is meant to honor the million-plus fallen U.S. soldiers who have died for their country over the years. Re-raising the flag is meant to symbolize the resolve of the living to carry on the fight for freedom so that the nation’s heroes will not have died in vain.
- It is very common to visit cemeteries, particularly military cemeteries, at this time of year to decorate the graves. Small American flags, flowers, and wreathes are commonly placed by the tombstones.
- On the U.S. Capitol Building’s West Lawn, a Memorial Day concert is held annually. The musical performances are broadcast live around the country on PBS t.v. and NPR radio. Attendance is free, but most watch or listen from at home.
- There are literally thousands of Memorial Day parades all across the country in cities small and large. Typically, you will see marching bands, National Guardsmen, other Armed Forces members, and military vehicles from past U.S. wars.
- Many will wear or put on display red poppies on this day as a symbol of fallen soldiers. This tradition grew out of the famous poem by Canadian John McCrae known as In Flander’s Fields, which he was inspired to write upon seeing red poppies growing over the graves of World War I soldiers.
Some of the information here was taken from the U.S. Public Holiday’s Website, and you can read more there about the holiday and events going on for 2016.
If you are in the U.S. and celebrating this weekend, I do hope your days are filled with wonderful memories of those you have lost.