Memorial Day has many traditions. In many areas there are barbecues, parades and picnics. People get together, eat, play games and have a good time. While this is pleasant, we really ought to pay more attention to what this holiday is.
Origins: No one knows for sure when the first Memorial Day was celebrated. It is thought that General John A. Logan was at the roots. On May 30, 1868 he ordered that the graves of soldiers be decorated with flowers and other items as a memorial to those who had fallen. He chose that date because it wasn’t the anniversary of any major battle.
The day wasn’t called Memorial Day but Decoration Day. It continued to be celebrated on that day. In 1968 a law was passed declaring that Memorial Day be the last Sunday in May. The reason given was that it would give federal employees a three day weekend. This came into effect in 1971.
Laying the Wreath: It has become tradition that the President of the United States lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It is a solemn affair with honor guards from all national services. While it isn’t the only time this happens, it is usually televised and it should remind us of the reason this day exists.
Honoring Our Own Dead: While this day is primarily for fallen soldiers, there are some who also spend time honoring family members who have passed away. I can remember my father going to his father’s grave and spending some time. We kids weren’t allowed out of the car, it was a very private thing for him.
What Should We Do? Memorial Day can still be about parties and picnics, but each of us should take a moment to remember those who have died to keep us safe. You don’t necessarily have to go to a function or visit a national cemetery. It can be private…just in your heart.
Parents may also want to make sure their children know what the day is about. Naturally it will have to be age appropriate, but a parade or a local event honoring our living and dead heroes may be helpful. It wouldn’t hurt to spend time honoring our own dead. There isn’t a day set aside for that, but the example of my father makes me tend to think it an appropriate time.
Memorial Day isn’t our best understood holiday, but it should be. I will take time to honor and pray for those who have died in service to our country and those who are still in harm’s way protecting us.