For many Americans, Memorial Day has become an excuse to be off work and party. While there is nothing wrong with relaxing and spending time with family and friends over Memorial Day weekend, it is important that we teach our children about the meaning of the holiday.
Originally referred to as Decoration Day, Memorial Day is the one day a year we as Americans have reserved to honor and remember soldiers who have fallen in battle while fighting for our country. Memorial Day was first observed in 1868 when General John Logan proclaimed, “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 church yard in the land.”
Although the holiday was originally intended to honor those who died fighting in the Civil War, it was broadened after World War I to become a day of memorial for all fallen soldiers of the United States. As the holiday caught on and spread throughout the 50 states, the date changed slightly and Memorial Day is now observed on the last Monday in May—as opposed to May 30th—in almost every state.
In order for children to understand the importance of Memorial Day, you can show them how to celebrate their country with displays of patriotism and honor those who died for the U.S. Here are a few activities you might consider doing with your children this Memorial Day after first discussing the origins and meaning behind the holiday.
Create a Flag
There are many ways to create your own version of the American flag and show your patriotism. Your project could be as simple as coloring a picture of the American flag, as elaborate as creating a patchwork flag from fabric scraps, or as tasty as making an American flag cake with white icing or whipped cream, strawberries, and blueberries.
Wear Red Poppies
Red poppies are sometimes worn on Memorial Day to honor fallen soldiers. This tradition was started in 1915 by Moina Michael, who was inspired by a page from the poem "In Flanders Fields" written by Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae during World War I.
The page spoke of red poppies growing on the graves of those who died in battle and included an illustration of the brightly colored flowers. After seeing this, Moina Michael began wearing a red poppy in remembrance of those who had passed in battle, and encouraged others to do the same. She sold poppies to friends and co-workers who also wished to commemorate those who sacrificed their lives for our country, and donated the proceeds to servicemen in need.
Moina also wrote her own poem in response to "In Flanders Fields." It is titled "We Shall Keep The Faith."
If you are looking for a way to honor our fallen soldiers with your children this Memorial Day consider reading both poems mentioned above—stopping to help young children understand the meaning behind the poetry—and wearing red poppies.
Visit a War Memorial
Nearly every community has some sort of war memorial nearby. Find one near you and make a point of visiting. Explain to your children why you are visiting in an age-appropriate manner, and take flowers or small flags to place on graves.
Although Memorial Day is meant to be a day of remembrance, there is no reason it can't be fun too. After you've spent some time explaining the reasons behind the holiday with your children and done your part to honor the fallen soldiers of our country, be sure to use the rest of the day to spend quality time with family and friends. Planning a cookout with some tasty red, white, and blue treats, and playing "The Star Spangled Banner" or "You're a Grand Old Flag" in the background will help keep the day patriotic, and will remind people to be thankful for those who fought so bravely for our wonderful country.