Each May, many of us find ourselves gathering arrangements of beautiful flowers and taking the time to visit, and decorate, the graves of our loved ones as part of the celebration of the Memorial Day holiday. But many of us know little about the history of this holiday and why flowers are such an important part of it.
Originally known as Decoration Day, the celebration of Memorial Day actually began shortly after the end of the Civil War. Major General John A. Logan was believed to have chosen the date for this new annual holiday to coincide with the time of year when spring flowers would be abundantly available in most areas of the healing nation.
Healing A Torn Country
On May 30, 1868, the first orchestrated celebration of Decoration Day was held at Arlington National Cemetery, on the grounds of an Arlington mansion once owned by General Robert E. Lee. In attendance were honored guests, including General Ulysses S. Grant and his wife. Speeches were given, and afterward, as part of the healing process, children spread flower petals throughout the cemetery, decorating the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers.
Who Was First?
Even before the first Decoration Day was held at Arlington National Cemetery, this type of springtime tribute to those lost during the Civil War may have already been taking place in other areas of the country. One of the first recorded occurrences of this practice took place in a Mississippi cemetery in 1866, two years before the event at Arlington. Filled with confederate soldiers who had been lost in the battle of Shiloh, the fresh, bare graves were decorated along with family graves by women who visited the cemetery that spring. Other accounts exist as well, and today, cities in both the South and the North lay claim to the birth of the true Memorial Day.
Flowers have been used in celebrations of both life and death throughout history. After a long winter, many see the emergence of spring flowers as a sign of rebirth, and hope for the future. The red poppy is just one of the flowers that are entwined with our celebrations of Memorial Day due to their emergence in many of the fields where World War I battles were fought in Europe.
No matter what flower you choose, take time this Memorial Day to not only honor members of your own family who have passed, but also to remember a grave that may not have someone to care for it. Happy Memorial Day!