For many of us, Memorial Day is a three day holiday to celebrate what feels like the beginning of summer. That’s good, because there is a lot to be said for celebrating the start of those hopefully lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer with a cookout, picnic, barbecue or gathering of friends and family.
But like many other national holidays, there’s a meaningful back story that’s worth telling and remembering in some way during this celebration, and you’ll find lots of ideas on just how to integrate remembering into your day below. But first, what’s Memorial Day about?
How did Memorial Day begin?
Apparently, many towns and cities claim to have started the tradition of Decoration Day, as Memorial Day was originally called, although Waterloo NY was declared the winner of this title by former President Lyndon Johnson in May, 1966. The day itself actually was proclaimed by a Union General on May 5, 1868 to honor those who had died in the Civil War by placing flowers on their graves on May 30 at Arlington National Cemetery.
After World War I, the day was changed to celebrate those U.S. forces who had fought and died in any war. In 1971 it was declared a national holiday to be celebrated on the last Monday of May. Since then, it has been a day meant for a unified honoring of the nation’s war veterans who died in war. It’s been informally expanded to include those who are veterans who died after serving in the US. armed forces as well.
Remember those who gave….
Traditionally, it’s a day of cook outs, picnics, and outdoor activities, but here are a few ideas on how to add more meaning to your Memorial Day this year:
- Attend a parade: Many local communities have a small parade honoring veterans who have fought in a war or contributed to the effort in some way. Regardless of your politics and beliefs, it’s a way to give tribute to those have done what they felt was right for their country. Thank them.
- Visit a cemetery: This can be especially important if one of your relatives was a veteran. While the tradition over the early years of Memorial Day was to “decorate” the grave with flowers, you’ll most often today see the small flags next to the tombstones of veterans (usually placed there by volunteers), whether they died in the war or later. Children can benefit from this activity as well, because it gives them a history lesson.
- Have a family ceremony: During your event, take a few moments to say a word about your family members who may have fought, died, been wounded or disabled in any war for the U.S. If you’ve done some work on your family tree, go back as far as you can. If you have a family member or friend who is in or returning from Afghanistan, ask them to speak, and give them your thanks.
- Create a playlist of relevant Memorial Day music: With i-tunes and your i-pod, you can design a playlist of patriotic music in any genre from country to big bands. The old standards like America the Beautiful are always good, but be creative and do a mix of pop, rock, R & B and country Add the music that is meaningful for you from various times the country was at war. Here are a few starter ideas for your list:
- America (Neil Diamond)
- Freedom (Paul McCartney)
- Citizen Soldier (3 Doors Down)
- Living in America (James Brown)
- Born in the USA (Bruce Springsteen)
- R.O.C.K. in the USA (John Mellencamp)
- American Soldier (Toby Keith)
- It’s America (Rodney Adkins)
- Wear a red poppy: This tradition began in 1915 when Moina Michael wrote her own poem in reaction to In Flanders Fields, mentioning a red poppy in relation to the “blood of heroes never dies”. Since then organizations, including veterans groups, have made the red poppies to sell for fund raising purposes.
- Have a Remembrance Moment: In hopes of putting the remembering back in Memorial Day, Congress declared in 2000 a National Moment of Remembrance resolution. At 3pm local time, Americans are asked to “voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to Taps.”
- Serve a “flag cake”: After all the remembering activities, move on to your summer start off celebration with menu that includes a “flag cake”. Vanilla cake, vanilla frosting strawberries cut in quarters and some blueberries are all you need. Bake the cake in a 9 x 13 pan, frost it, then create a flag design using the strawberries for stripes and the blueberries for the stars. Yummy, patriotic, and another way to remember what Memorial Day is all about!
Enjoy family and friends!!!