Understanding Memorial Day: History, Significance, and Making It Special
Local & National News | May 26, 2023
This day honors and remembers the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.

Memorial Day, the last Monday in May, marks a significant and solemn occasion in American history. This day honors and remembers the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. It's a time to reflect, pay respects, and cherish the freedoms that come at such a high price. In this second article of our series, we delve into the history, significance, and ways to make this day special for your family.

History of Memorial Day

Memorial Day was initially known as Decoration Day. The day's concept arose after the Civil War, the most lethal conflict in American history, leaving more than 620,000 soldiers dead. First observed on May 30, 1868, under the direction of General John A. Logan, Decoration Day was dedicated to decorating the graves of war dead with flowers.

It wasn't until after World War I that Decoration Day expanded to honor those who have died in all American wars. In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress, which set the date as the last Monday in May.

The Significance of Memorial Day

Memorial Day is a powerful reminder of the human cost of freedom and democracy. It's a day to remember that the peace and freedom we often take for granted were earned through the sacrifices of others. 

The tradition of wearing a red poppy on Memorial Day originated from a poem written during World War I called "In Flanders Fields." Written by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, the poem speaks of red poppies as the first flowers to grow in the churned-up earth of soldiers' graves in Flanders, a region in Belgium.

Making Memorial Day Special

While this day often marks the unofficial start of summer, replete with BBQs and outdoor gatherings, it’s important to remember and honor its true significance. Here are a few ways to make it special:

1. Visit a Memorial or Cemetery

Take a family trip to a local veterans' cemetery or war memorial. Bring flowers to leave in honor of those who have served. This can be a profoundly moving experience and an excellent opportunity to teach children about sacrifice and service.

2. Fly the American Flag

Another traditional way to honor the day is by flying the American flag at half-staff from dawn until noon. This act symbolizes the nation’s remembrance of those who never returned home.

3. Participate in the National Moment of Remembrance

Congress established the National Moment of Remembrance, which asks Americans, wherever they are at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day, to pause for a minute in an act of national unity. The time was chosen because it's likely when most Americans are enjoying their freedoms on the national holiday.

4. Write Letters to Soldiers

Have your children write letters to active service members expressing gratitude for their service. This simple act can make a big difference and help remind them of why this day is significant.

5. Attend or Watch a Parade

Many towns have local Memorial Day parades, which can be a fun and educational way to commemorate the day. If you can't attend in person, look for televised parades to watch together as a family.

6. Create a Memorial Day Craft or Recipe

For a lighter and fun activity, consider creating a patriotic craft or cooking a special recipe with your kids. It's a creative and enjoyable way to spend the day while still focusing on the day's themes.

This Memorial Day, amidst the backyard gatherings and outdoor festivities, take time to reflect on the bravery, dedication, and sacrifices of our military service members. By understanding the history and significance of this day, we can impart its importance to the younger generations and ensure that the legacy of our heroes lives on.

It's also an excellent opportunity to initiate meaningful conversations about the values of freedom, sacrifice, and patriotism, fostering a sense of gratitude and respect for those who have selflessly served our country.

Creating traditions like visiting local memorials, raising the American flag, or even sharing stories of historical military figures can enhance the commemoration of this solemn day. It's about finding a balance between celebration and remembrance, ensuring that amidst our joyous gatherings, we take moments of silence to remember.

As you plan for your Memorial Day celebration, may it be filled with moments of laughter, gratitude, and deep appreciation for the immense sacrifices made by our brave service members. Remember, this day is not just about grilling and gathering, but about honoring and cherishing the memories of those who have made our freedom possible. Let's ensure we make it special, not just for us, but in honor of them.