Memorial Day Traditions

Memorial Day Traditions serious & not so serious


Memorial Day traditions are varied. Designed as a day to reflect upon those that gave their lives to defend the United States, it is a time to give reverence to the oh so many who perished in war.

Servicemen, servicewomen and service dogs, all sacrificed their lives to defend the United States. While Veteran’s Day celebrates all veterans, Memorial Day is in honor of those that gave their lives to defend our freedom. And don’t think of Memorial Day as something from way back in history, there are many in harm’s way as we read this post today, and there undoubtedly will unfortunately be many more in the future.

Memorial Day Traditions
Memorial Day traditions from serious to not so serious. Here Lenny gives his respect to the flag.

No doubt, many were in the wrong place at the wrong time lost their lives. We have no record of any cats that might have helped, but there’s a lot of history that is never recorded. A cat could well have saved someone from being killed, alarming them of an upcoming enemy. Prior to 2000, little thought was given to the special bond between pets and their humans.

Memorial Day Traditions are varied

Many of us take advantage of Memorial Day as an excuse for a long-weekend, with a few more precious hours to be spent with the kitties, and the mushrooming amount of lawn work that awaits us homeowners for the summer season. Some take advantage of this extra time in our increasingly busy schedules to get away, go camping, visit friends, or take a road trip.

Memorial Day Traditions

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Memorial Day Traditions

The fourth Monday in May, Memorial Day will be observed across the country with flags, decorated graves honoring those that died in service, barbecues, family get-togethers, and a day off from work. Some will take the time to reflect on those that gave their lives in honor of this country. Most of us will take a much-needed reprieve from life’s every day frenzy and celebrate the beginning of summer.

Where did Memorial Day come from?

As a history buff, Paws had been pondering how Memorial Day came to be. It appears that Memorial Day sprung out of the Civil War, an event that tore the country apart. It was a divisive event that eventually unified the country, at least physically. Even though the USA was one country by law, it remained socially divided until the latter part of the 20th century. Some of those unhealed wounds remain today. If you don’t believe it, talk with a person with real strong Confederate or Yankee sentiments.

Originally called Decoration Day, it is uncertain where the day actually started. Over two dozen cities and towns claim to be the home of the original Memorial Day. Evidence points to women’s groups in the South decorating graves before the end of the Civil War.

‘Kneel Where Our Loves are Sleeping’

A hymn published in 1867, ‘Kneel Where Our Loves are Sleeping’, by Nella L. Sweet was dedicated to the ladies of the south who were decorating graves of the confederate dead.

The hymn goes like this:

Kneel where our loves are sleeping,

Dear one’s days gone by,

Here we bow in holy reverence,

Our bosoms heave the heartfelt sigh.

They fell like brave men, true as steel,

And pour’d their blood like rain,

We feel we owe them all we have,

And can but weep and kneel again.


Kneel where our loves are sleeping,

They lost but still were good and true,

Our fathers, brothers fell still fighting,

We weep, ’tis all that we can do.

Verse 2:

Here we find our noble dead,

Their spirits soar’d to him above,

Rest they now about his throne,

For God is mercy, God is love.

Then let us pray that we may live,

As pure and good as they have been,

That dying we may ask of him,

To open the gate and let us in.

(Repeat Chorus)

Kneel where our loves are sleeping,

They lost but still were good and true,

Our fathers, brothers fell still fighting,

We weep, ’tis all that we can do.

Decoration Day

Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of an organization composed of Union Veterans – the Grand Army of the Republic – in his General Order No. 11. He declared May 30 as Decoration Day, a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers, a time when flowers would be in bloom across the country.

Decoration Day was first observed on May 30, 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.

In 1873, New York became the first state to observe the holiday, and by 1890 all northern states had followed suite. However, the South refused to celebrate Memorial Day until after World War I when it was changed from honoring Americans that had died fighting in any war, not just the Civil War. There’s some controversy over where it began. Was it in Columbus, MI or Columbus, GA.? In May 1966, President Lyndon Johnson proclaimed Waterloo, NY the birthday of Memorial Day.

Memorial Day Traditions: The Red Poppy

American teacher Moina Michael came up with an idea to wear red poppies on Memorial Day. The cause was near and dear to her. Born in Good Hope, Georgia, in 1869, her father was Confederate veteran John Marion Michael.

Flander’s Fields

‘Flander’s Fields’, a poem by John McCrae, became very popular during what then called the Great War.  The poem refers to poppies that grew near the battlefields of that horrific conflict.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

Poem: ‘We Shall Keep Faith’

She was so inspired by this poem that she published her own poem, ‘We Shall Keep Faith’.

We cherish too, the Poppy red,

That grows on fields where valor lead,

It seems to signal to the skies,

That blood of heroes never dies.

The French Poppy Lady

Memorial Day TraditionsShe also wanted to find a way to honor those who had died serving the nation during war. Reports state she sold them to friends and co-workers with the proceeds benefiting servicemen in need.

That custom was adopted by France’s Madam Guerin, who later became known as the French Poppy Lady, while visiting this country. When she returned to her homeland, she made artificial red poppies to raise money for war orphaned children and widowed women. This tradition spread to other countries. In 1921, the Franco-American Children’s League sold poppies nationally to benefit war orphans from France and Belgium. One year later, the League disbanded. Then Madam Guerin approached the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), who took over the program. In 1922 the VFW became the first veterans’ organization to nationally sell poppies nationally. Two years later the ‘Buddy’ Poppy program was selling artificial poppies made by disabled veterans.

Placing Flags on Veterans’ Graves

It is believed that Laura Richardson, a New England native who moved to teach in Knoxville, Tenn., in 1866 began the tradition of placing flags on the graves of veterans on Memorial Day.

Since the late 50’s on the Thursday before Memorial Day, the 1,200 soldiers of the 3d U.S. Infantry place small American flags at each of the more than 260,000 gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery.

On June 28, 1968, Congress passed The National Holiday Act of 1971 which changed Memorial Day from May 30 to the last Monday in May to give the federal government a three-day weekend.  This change has long been criticized for stripping the meaning from Memorial Day and making it a three-day weekend.

The National Moment of Remembrance Act

Perhaps in response to this, in December 2000, Congress passed and the president signed into law The National Moment of Remembrance Act which encourages Americans to pause at 3 pm on Memorial Day for a moment of silence to remember those that died in service for the nation.

Paws wants to thank the servicemen that have not only died, but also served to protect our freedoms. We kitties have a much better life because of it. We extend a huge thank you: past, present and future protectors of our country.

Flowers on all graves

Memorial Day flowers on the family grave site has been a tradition in my family forever. When Paws Googled where the concept of putting flowers on everyone’s graves came from, it really wasn’t clear. Southerners started placing flowers on the graves of Confederate Soldiers who had given their lives in the Civil War. As Yankees were buried in those same cemeteries, flowers were then spread on all soldiers who had died in the Civil War. In May 1868, the day became a federal holiday. But there were few, if any, flowers blooming in the North in April, and it was moved to May 30, so that people could decorate the graves of fallen soldiers with wildflowers.

Memorial Day Traditions
Cats check put flowers to be put on Memorial Day grave site.

We found one reference to putting flowers on graves dating back to ancient Rome, creating a comforting environment in which the deceased’s spirit could wander around the grave. While no research confirmed this, Paws believes the practice spread to all grave sites so that the graves would not appear barren with others beside it well decorated. It is a day where we can recognize and honor those that have played an important part in our lives, and the Paws household, continues that tradition.

Memorial Day Traditions

What is your favorite tradition surrounding Memorial Day? Do you like the parades and the festivities? Do you visit friends or family? Do you take the time to get away from the frenzied pace of your every day life?  Paws, for one, is writing about it, and thinking that perhaps, she can find some extra time to spend with the kitties. We certainly do hope she remembers to pause for a moment of silence and reflect on all of those who have sacrificed their lives for us?

4 responses to “Memorial Day Traditions serious & not so serious”

  1. 15andmeowing Avatar

    Wonderful post. We put flowers on my Dad’s grave and my husband’s father’s grave too.

    1. BJ Bangs Avatar
      BJ Bangs

      That’s a great tradition, and a way to remember those that have passed on before us.

  2. Savannah's Paw Tracks Avatar
    Savannah’s Paw Tracks

    The reality of Memorial Day is lost on most Americans under the age of 40 these days. That is unless they have served in the military.

    1. BJ Bangs Avatar
      BJ Bangs

      Sad to say, this is very true.

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