The poppy became associated with Memorial Day because of the poem "In Flanders Fields," which includes the line "In Flanders Fields the poppies blow/Between the crosses, row on row." (Source: Wikimedia Commons/Sarunis Burdules)
JACKSON, MS (Mississippi News Now) -
While Many Americans think of Memorial Day as "the unofficial beginning of summer" and spend the long weekend enjoying barbecues, swimming and other summertime activities, the original meaning of the holiday has been lost over the years.
Memorial Day was established as a day of remembrance of American military members who died in service of the country.
The holiday's origins have also become muddled with time.
While celebrations and memorials honoring fallen soldiers happened nationwide after the Civil War in many locations, there is evidence Southern women organized the day to decorate the graves of those who died before the war ended. This holiday was known as "Decoration Day".
One of the earliest recorded celebrations was in Charleston, SC, where freed slaves, teachers and missionaries gathered on May 1, 1865, to honor Union soldiers who had been captured and held at the Charleston Race Course. The prisoners there died in captivity and were buried in unmarked graves.
The celebration in Waterloo, NY began in the summer of 1865 and was fully organized by 1866, with the help of residents and veterans, into a formal celebration.
Memorial Day was officially established in 1868 by Gen. John Logan, the commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, and celebrated on May 30 of that year. Flowers were placed on the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.
New York was the first state to adopt the holiday in 1873, and by the 1890's, it was recognized in all the Northern states although the South refused to acknowledge the day. Southern states maintained their own Confederate Memorial Day until after World War I, when the holiday was changed to honor the dead of all U.S. wars instead of just the Civil War.
The poppy became associated with the holiday in 1915. Moina Belle Michael, inspired by the John McCrae poem In Flanders Fields, wrote her own poem called We Shall Keep the Faith. She came up with the idea to wear red poppies in commemoration of the day. The tradition spread to other countries as well, and Michael was honored in 1948 by the U.S. Post Office with a stamp with her likeness on it.
While more than two dozen American towns claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day, President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, NY to be the birthplace of the holiday in 1966, and it was decreed by the National Holiday Act of 1971 to be celebrated on the last Monday in May each year.
In 2000, President Bill Clinton signed a White House resolution urging all Americans to pause at 3 p.m. on Memorial Day for a moment of reflection and respect to honor those who died.
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