Honoring Our Loved Ones on Memorial Day 

On May 31, 2004, our nation will celebrate Memorial Day with parades and picnics, fireworks and friends. As with other holidays, many lose sight of the meaning of the special day and consider it to simply be a day off work or school or merely the unofficial beginning of summer. 

This year, consider what you and your family can do to celebrate the holiday by truly memorializing departed family and friends. Share in the tradition of this important national holiday, a tradition that dates back to the U.S. Civil War. 

A Brief History 

Historians debate the first observance of a Memorial Day. Some claim the practice of honoring war dead began in Boalsburg, Pennsylvania. Others say the tradition began when women in Virginia decorated the graves of Confederate and Union soldiers at the end of the Civil War. In 1868, a Union General declared May 30 as a day to honor fallen Union soldiers, yet the U.S. government officially recognizes the birthplace of Memorial Day (formerly known as Decoration Day) as Waterloo, New York, when Civil War veterans were honored at a ceremony in 1865. 

The practice of decorating gravesites endured throughout the 20th century. Since the 1950s, small American flags have been placed at the more than 260,000 gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery, with troops standing guard the entire weekend to ensure the flags remain standing. 

What You Can Do? 

As a national holiday, Memorial Day serves to remember and honor those that lost their life defending their country. And there are many ways to celebrate this holiday today, remembering those who served our country in the military, but also remembering and honoring all departed friends and family. Here are some ideas. 

  • Visit local cemeteries and place flags or flowers over the graves of departed friends or family members. 
  • Visit or research memorial sites in the community. 
  • Fly the U.S. flag at half-staff until noon. 
  • Participate in the “National Moment of Remembrance,” at 3 p.m. to pause and reflect on the meaning of Memorial Day. 

Of course May 27th should be a day of celebration, relaxation, and spending time with our families. But among the picnics and parades, take time to reflect upon the history and meaning of this Memorial Day. 

For additional online resources on the history and celebrations of Memorial Day, check out these sites: