Friday, May 30, 2008

What is Memorial Day?

In honor of today being the traditional Memorial Day, I would like to share some brief thoughts and history.

To many Americans, Memorial Day is simply the three-day weekend kick-off to summer fun. While I can definitely appreciate a celebration of the joy of the outdoors and good weather, I think it is important that we always take time to remember the actual purpose of the holiday. It is a great opportunity to teach our children about patriotism, genealogy, and history. It doesn't take much to honor those who came before us. It could be as simple as having the family put up the flag together with a short explanation of what Memorial Day means to each of us.

As you can see from other posts, we made sure to do something appropriate to celebrate the purpose of the day as well as a second activity to celebrate being outdoors (post coming soon).

For those looking for a history to share with their children, here is the brief history of Memorial Day that was printed on the handouts for our ward party:

Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day because it was a day set aside to honor those who died during the Civil War by decorating their graves. It was first widely observed on May 30, 1868, by proclamation of General John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic. Logan had declared that:

The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.

During the first celebration of Decoration Day, General James Garfield (who later became president) made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, after which 5,000 participants helped to decorate the graves of the more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried in the cemetery.

By the late 1800s, many communities across the country had begun to celebrate Memorial Day and, after World War I, observances also began to honor those who had died in all of America's wars. In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday to be celebrated the last Monday in May (instead of the traditional day of May 30).

Today, Memorial Day is celebrated at Arlington National Cemetery with a ceremony in which a small American flag is placed on each grave. Also, it is customary for the president or vice-president to give a speech honoring the contributions of the dead and lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

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