If you drive by a national cemetery early next week you are certain to see an American flag placed at each grave. The flags, used as decorations for Memorial day, are part of a tradition started soon after the civil war. While flags are the most iconic decoration for this holiday, flowers also play an important part.
During the beginning of May in 1868, General John Logan, Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army
of the Republic declared May 30th to be “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…” He went on to state “Let us, then, at the time appointed, gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with choicest flowers of springtime; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us as sacred charges upon the Nation’s gratitude,–the soldier’s and sailor’s widow and orphan.”(Suvcw.org, 2017)
There have been some changes to the holiday over the years. The name has b
een changed from Decoration Day to Memorial Day. It was opened to include remembering soldiers lost in all wars after World War I. President Lyndon Johnson declared Memorial day a national holiday in 1971 and the holiday went from being observed always on May 30 to the last Monday in May.
Given the history of the holiday, it’s no surprise that the patriotic colors of the American flag make their way into floral arrangements used for decorating headstones. White lillies are often used to represent purity, innocence, and faith. Red and white roses represent unity. An interesting side note is that rose essential oil is one of the most used essential oils for dealing with grief. White carnations can be dyed any color making them the ideal flower for memorial day decorations.
Perhaps the most recognized symbol of remembrance on this day is the red poppy. The legend of the red poppy was started by Canadian veteran and physician, John McCrae who wrote the poem, “In Flanders Fields.” American Moina Michael was instrumental in cultivating this tradition in the United States. Her influence persuaded the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion to support the Red Remembrance Poppy. (Worldwar1.com, 2017)
In Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row by row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard among 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 yea break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
We remember our fallen men and women this week and are grateful to those who made the ultimate sacrifice so we may live in freedom.
Suvcw.org. (2017). SUVCW: General John A. Logan’s Memorial Day Order. [online] Available at: http://www.suvcw.org/logan.htm [Accessed 23 May 2017].
Worldwar1.com. (2017). The Legends and Traditions of the Great War: The Red Poppy. [online] Available at: http://www.worldwar1.com/heritage/rpoppy.htm [Accessed 23 May 2017].
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