Five Meaningful Ways to Celebrate Memorial Day
Many of us think of Memorial Day as the unofficial start of summer. But there’s more to this national holiday than enjoying a three-day weekend of lakeside picnics, backyard grilling, and retail discounts.
History of Remembrance
Memorial Day traces back to Decoration Day—a day set aside to honor those lost while fighting in the Civil War. Several years after the war ended, people began decorating the gravesites of fallen soldiers with wreaths and flowers. On May 30, 1868, General John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic expanded that tradition by establishing the first official Decoration Day. That day, over 5000 participants helped to decorate the graves of the more than 20,000 soldiers buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Numerous local communities continued to observe Decoration Day every year. After World War I, Decoration Day was expanded to commemorate U.S. military personnel who died in all wars. In 1971, Congress changed the name to Memorial Day and established it as a federal holiday on the last Monday of May.
Today, people around the country honor the self-sacrifice of brave men and women in not only the Civil War but also World Wars I and II, the Vietnam War, the Korean War, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
At Arlington National Cemetery, Memorial Day is observed with a ceremony in which each grave is decorated with a small American flag. Traditionally, the President or Vice President also lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
In December 2000, Congress also established the National Moment of Remembrance. This nation-wide custom encourages all Americans to pause for a full minute of silence on Memorial Day at 3 PM (local time) in honor and remembrance of those who have died in the nation's military service.
Looking for some easy and meaningful ideas to celebrate Memorial Day with loved ones?
1. Visit Veteran’s Memorial Park in Plano.
This beautiful park in north central Plano houses a war memorial, which has been the site of a sunset Memorial Day ceremony in years past. The monument at the park is still a moving tribute to the many Plano citizens who have died in proud service of our country. If you aren’t able to visit the park, you can view the names of soldiers listed on the monument here.
2. Pay Respects to Those Lost in War
You and your loved ones can help to honor the memory of fallen soldiers by decorating their graves with small flags or flowers. You can do so in person at the Dallas-Ft. Worth National Cemetery, or by supporting an organization like this one that does decorating on behalf of families and loved ones.
3. Watch the National Memorial Day Concert
For over 30 years, this annual televised event has gathered prominent veterans, celebrities, musicians, and performers from the U.S. military choirs and ensembles for an evening of remembrance. In light of the pandemic, this year’s event has been prerecorded. But it will still include songs, performances, documentary footage, and real-life stories tracing military conflicts in our nation’s history. The event airs on PBS at 7 PM (CT) on Sunday, May 20.
4. Read a children’s Memorial Day book with your family.
Curious why poppies and white tables are associated with Memorial Day? Children's books are an easy way to explore the history of Memorial Day through different perspectives. Find some colorful and engaging selections here.
5. Learn about military service firsthand.
Browse through the Library of Congress Veterans History Project, a collection of personal accounts of American war veterans, to hear about the realities of war and armed service. Or, if you personally know any military veterans, take time to thank them for their service and ask them to share more about their experiences. Finally, if someone in your family has served in the military, consider preserving their oral history, photos, and written materials for the generations to come with suggestions from the American Library Association.
However you chose to enjoy Memorial Day, take time to pause and remember the service and sacrifice of many on our nation's behalf.