For many Americans, Memorial Day is the official kick off of the Summer season and a day to celebrate with a well-deserved day off and a good old fashioned BBQ; but many don’t really know the true origins of this very special and solemn holiday.

Memorial Day – The History

Memorial Day’s origins start as far back as the Civil War.  The epic loss of over 620,000 soldiers both Confederate and Union had a terrible effect on the surrounding communities throughout the war torn territories.  This loss led to several commemorations of the fallen soldiers.  From Boalsburg and Gettysburg to Columbus Mississippi; widowed wives and grieving mothers laid flowers to pay homage to their lost men.  This led to the first Memorial Day and the tradition continued on.

On May 5th, 1868, General Logan, the speaker at a gathering in Carbondale Illinois memorial issued General Orders No.11, which set aside May 30, 1868 “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.”  It was hoped that this order would be observed from year to year while a survivor of the ware remains to honor the memories of the fallen.  It was first to be called Decoration Day, but the name Memorial Day was what they gravitated to in 1882 and was finally made official in 1967.

Ulysses S. Grant presided over the first Memorial Day on May 30th, 1868 at Arlington National Cemetery, which until 1864 was Confederate Robert E. Lee’s plantation.  5,000 people attended the ceremony despite the unusually hot May day and listened to General James A. Garfield speak about the solemn occasion noting the following: “If silence is ever golden, it must be beside the graves of fifteen-thousand men, whose lives were more significant than speech, and whose death was a poem the music of which can never be sung.”

Memorial Day comes with many customs; most nationally recognized while others are regional.  General Orders No. 11 stated that “in this observance, no form of ceremony is prescribed” though many have been held the norm.

  • It is customary to fly the flag at half-staff until noon, and then raise it to the top after sunset.
  • Taps is the military funeral call that is played at most military funerals.
  • Red artificial poppies was adopted the official symbol of tribute to veterans and for “keeping the faith with all who died” in 1915.  The sale of poppies has supported the work of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
  • While it is not as popular today as it once was, it was often customary to have a picnic meal while sitting on the ground of a cemetery.
  • Several Southern states still set aside a special Memorial Day of their own honoring the Confederate dead.  This “Confederate Memorial Day” is celebrated in various months between January and June throughout The South.
  • Often confused with Veteran’s Day, Memorial Day serves to honor all those who died during military service, while Veteran’s Day is to honor all those who served and continue to serve.

Don’t feel too guilty about that BBQ on Memorial Day. Because there was no official form of celebration established in the original decree, Memorial Day has served to celebrate many other commemorations in American History.  The first Indianapolis 500 was established on Memorial Day in 1911 while the Lincoln Memorial was dedicated on May 30th, 1922.  In 2000, Congress established a National Moment of Remembrance whereby Americans are asked to stop what they are doing at 3pm to pause for one minute of complete silence in an act of National unity.

What to Do this Weekend?

Want to honor those who died while serving our great country?  Check out SCPR.ORG for a full listing of ceremonies, parades and celebrations of our fallen heroes past and present.

Looking to do some fun stuff this Memorial Day?  There are several SoCal venues offering some fun in the sun!

Ways You Can Make Memorial Day, Memorable!

Fly the Flag
Teach older kids how to fly and fold a flag properly. Younger kids can create their own out of construction paper and use straws as the masts.  And don’t forget to fly it half-mast as a symbol of mourning.Attend a Memorial Day Celebration
Local Events will include the Main Street Memorial Day Party in Santa Monica, Topanga Days in Topanga Canyon, The Valley Greek Festival in Northridge and the Canoga Park Memorial Day Parade.

Sing Patriotic Songs or watch a Patriotic Movie
There is no better time than Memorial Day to teach your youngsters some of the long forgotten tunes like “America the Beautiful” or “America, My Country Tis of Thee”.  AMC regularly plays classic military films in honor of the holiday.  Check out Netflix and Amazon to see what military classics they may have.

Visit LA National Cemetery or VA Hospital
Bake cookies to bring to an injured service member or visit the LA National Cemetery to pay your respects to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

Create a Care Package
Current Service members would really appreciate a care package of books, chocolates and other treats from back home.

Cook a Patriotic Meal
The internet is full of great recipes perfect for a good ‘ol Memorial Day meal.  My personal go-to is Memorial Day Pancakes with strawberries, blueberries and whipped cream!

Run/Walk for Warriors
Get out in the sunshine and partake in some fitness!  The 6th Annual 5K Run/Walk for Warriors will be supporting homeless veterans to get back on their feet.

With so many ways to celebrate the sacrifices made by our fallen heroes, please take this time to be thankful to them and to express that gratitude in the form of love and valuable time with your family and friends.  Together, we can all make a difference for a positive tomorrow!

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