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With Memorial Day weekend upon us, some have argued that the holiday has lost its meaning over the years, giving way to a National Day of BBQ in place of the solemn remembrance of national sacrifice. But that is not entirely true: Believe it or not, picnics and togetherness have always been integral elements of Memorial Day celebrations, bringing together families and communities to commemorate the sacrifices of fallen servicemen and women.

Graveside Picnics

The first major observance of Memorial Day – formerly known as Decoration Day – was held in 1868, when General James Garfield gave a speech at Arlington National Cemetery The audience included more than 5,000 community members who laid out blankets and lunches on the cemetery grounds and ate together as they listened to General Garfield’s speech — a practice then referred to as a “potluck.” Afterward, the graves of more than 20,000 fallen Civil War soldiers – both Union and Confederate — were decorated with flowers. Families and neighbors came together in peace to honor those lost, and to express gratitude for the national liberties and security enjoyed because of those sacrifices.

A Meaningful Memorial Day

In keeping with this tradition of togetherness and remembrance, Memorial Day does not have to be sorrowful or serious to be meaningful. Just as other days are represented by symbols and traditions, Memorial Day is represented by simple gestures such as the display of the American flag and Aunt Betty’s perennial carrot raisin salad. As grills light up and the sun shines down, consider adding a small flag to your picnic table, or visiting the grave of a loved one. Attend a parade, or even participate in one.

Remembering, in and of itself, is not the foundation of Memorial Day – the true meaning of the holiday is found in honoring those lost, as well as honoring the importance of community and togetherness.