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Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

By Lia Blanchard

Memorial Day in the United States grew out of post-Civil War “Decoration Day” commemorations of fallen soldiers. By the turn of the century, Decoration Day honored any American killed while serving in the armed forces. The day became commonly known as Memorial Day, although the official name of the holiday was not changed by the federal government until 1967.The following year, Memorial Day was officially moved from May 30 to “the last Monday in May.”

It may seem awkward to give someone a gift on a day they’re remembering a loved one killed in action, but it is important to remember the US citizens who gave their lives in service of our country, and to support the families left behind. It’s not a gift in the sense of a boon; it’s a way to tell someone that both they and their lost loved one are remembered, honored, and appreciated.

Memorial gifts are very personal, and as such anything acknowledging the deceased’s special interests or talents is a beautiful tribute. Framing a special photo of the deceased “doing their thing” or taken by the deceased is a touching remembrance. A memorial ornament becomes a tribute to the decedent’s life and service that their family will appreciate for years to come.

Perhaps the family you know isn’t ready for such a gift; their loss is too fresh. A gift basket, either patriotic or more serious, is a lovely way to show them you remember and care without overwhelmingly personal sentimentality.

If you don’t personally know an individual or family remembering a loved one on Memorial Day, there are other ways to show your appreciation for the service of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

  • Attend a commemoration service at a memorial commemorating local citizens killed in war.
  • Visit a cemetery. Flowers, flags, or ribbons are appropriate adornments for military gravesites. Some cemeteries will provide red, white, and blue accoutrements on this day, or you may bring your own.
  • If you see anyone in military uniform, be sure to thank them for their service – a good practice for any day, really, but if for some reason you’re uncomfortable with it, you may find it easier to do on Memorial Day. Many servicemembers never hear the words “Thank you,” but they do matter, and are always appreciated.
  • Fly the American flag at half-staff until noon, a traditional gesture of observance.
  • Here are many more ways to observe the day with proper décor and respect.

There’s no doubt that traditional observances of Memorial Day have diminished over the years. Because it’s a yearly three-day weekend, the Memorial Day holiday has taken on the distinction of being the hallmark beginning of summer, and it’s often a weekend full of family reunions, picnics, and barbecues.

The National Moment of Remembrance resolution asks that Americans pause at 3 pm local time to pause for one minute “to remember and reflect on the sacrifices made by so many to provide freedom for all.” (President Bill Clinton, May 2000)

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