Memorial Day is something of a complicated holiday: it mingles the joy of summer, the solemnity of service, and the pain of bereavement together in equal measure. That can be difficult for kids to understand, especially amid fun outdoor parties and patriotic fanfare. But as girls grow to learn what it means to be a part of a community, they also learn to approach life with thoughtfulness and grace that makes them stronger people and their world a better place.
As a national holiday, Memorial Day offers the perfect time to appreciate what people can do together and for each other. After all, the history of Memorial Day shows that it is—and has always been—a day borne of kindness, care toward others, and unity in the aftermath of great, shared loss.
The commemoration of Memorial Day in the United States has its origins in not one story, but many: Civil War-era stories of local women gathering to tend the nearby graves of fallen soldiers in fields and towns across the nation, and of African American residents of Charleston, S.C. coming together in 1865 to memorialize the fallen and consecrate the land where northern POWs perished. And with an act of kindness that inspired Francis Miles Finch’s 1867 poem “The Blue and the Gray,” a small group of women in Mississippi decorated the graves of soldiers who fell in the Battle of Shiloh with flowers, taking care with Confederate and Union gravesites, alike. These stories informed the advent of “Decoration Day” in 1868.
The observance expanded following WWI, and with John McCrae’s 1915 poem “In Flanders Fields” and the thoughtfulness of professor and humanitarian Moina Michael, red poppies became a customary symbol of war remembrance, dedicated to those who lost their lives in service. Through WWII and subsequent wars, “Decoration Day” gradually broadened to become “Memorial Day,” and the designation was adopted, officially, in 1967.
Through it all, the original spirit of Memorial Day can be seen in countless kind gestures of remembrance—whether at Arlington, where the first national observance took place, or in small-town gatherings; in European countries where local residents have adopted the graves of U.S. military service members, or in the simple symbolism of a flag flying at half-staff in the morning sun.
Carry that spirit—along with its rich history of service, unity, gratitude, and care—forward with your family this Memorial Day.
Derived from A Smart Girl’s Guide: Manners ©/TM 1997, 2005, 2013
© 2018 American Girl. All American Girl marks are trademarks of American Girl.