Create a Meaningful Memorial Day

Updated: May 19

Remembering the fallen, as a family.

As a kid, the combination of decorating the house, throwing a barbecue, and having the day off from school can seem celebratory. To adults, Memorial Day is often treated like Labor Day or Presidents’ Day – a bank holiday and day without the regular commute to the office. Maybe even the unofficial start of summer . . . .

But to those who have served and lost friends and colleagues, or to families who have lost soldiers in service to our country, Memorial Day is a solemn time to remember the fallen. And it is our job as parents that, even if we do not currently fall into one of those categories, we make sure our children know the extent of sacrifices made in pursuit of our freedom and protection.

History is full of traditions made to honor those who have died in service to our nation. While some erect memorials and statues, or plant flowers and trees, we want to share some additional favorite family-friendly ways to present the weight of Memorial Day in the midst of a celebration of America.

Change Your Greeting; Prepare Your Home

So often people wish others a “Happy Memorial Day” when the occasion is meant to be solemn and reflective, instead of a celebration. This is a day to practice remembering more than just your water blaster aim (though we enjoy that too!) Try modeling the sentiment of the day by wishing others “a meaningful Memorial Day” in the week leading up to Memorial Day. If you notice a business or home hanging patriotic décor for the occasion, thank them for observing Memorial Day or note to your children “that house is honoring our fallen soldiers by flying America’s colors.” You may need to explain what “fallen soldier” means to them, and depending upon the age of your kid, you’ll know best how in depth to go.

Involve your kids in decorating your own home – and remind them why we do so: to say “thank you” to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Hand Out Flowers at a Cemetery

Three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the head of an organization of Union veterans — the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) — established Decoration Day, the previous name for Memorial Day, as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30. Many may not know that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country.

Gen. Logan’s order for his posts to decorate graves in 1868 “with the choicest flowers of springtime” urged: “We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. . . .Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.”

My local florist, Plants and Things Floral Design, made a lovely display at each of our local cemeteries to hand out flowers to honor our veterans and say “thank you” for their service and the sacrifice of their families. Next year, we’ll be gathering all our spring daffodils and tulips from the yard and joining them!

Plant Flags

The first large observance of Memorial Day was held in 1868 at Arlington National Cemetery. Various Washington officials, including (future president) General and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant, presided over the ceremonies. After speeches, children from the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Orphan Home and members of the GAR made their way through the cemetery, strewing flowers on both Union and Confederate graves, reciting prayers and singing hymns.

Today, organizations such as Flags for Fallen Vets keep the tradition of visiting graves alive by organizing flag plantings in veterans’ cemeteries across the U.S. Some of our Primerrily contributors have made this an annual tradition with their children. After registering online, you go to the cemetery for a briefing: you place the flag one one foot from the headstone, then you stand, put your hand over your heart, and say the soldier’s name i.e., “John Smith, thank you for your service.” Saying their names one by one, we are reminded that these are individual lives lost in defense of our country.

While flags are provided at organized events, you could also organize your own and order "Made in USA" American flags that are the right size for you.

Pro tip: Bring a ruler (for measuring the one foot spacing--a great measuring lesson for kids), mallet, and screwdriver (to hammer a hole for the flag) – to help you in your flag planting!

Visit a War Memorial

Most towns have at least one war memorial to consecrate the struggles that protected our nation’s interests and preserved our way of life. Do some research, pack the kids in the car (perhaps with some extra flags or flowers), and go for a visit.

Ask your kids: