Memorial Day: Expressing Our Thanks

May 24, 2023
Shirley A. Holly, NJSFWC President

Memorial Day is the perfect opportunity to invite family and friends over for fun in the sun. But it’s also important to keep the meaning of Memorial Day in mind. Understanding how Memorial Day got started as Decoration Day in the United States often helps bring that purpose to the forefront.

I know I’m dating myself, but I remember my family called it “Decoration Day”, which is the original title of the holiday we now call Memorial Day. The purpose of Decoration Day was to commemorate the fallen soldiers of the Civil War. That included patriots who died fighting on both sides of the war for both the Union states (the North) and for the Confederacy (the South). As the name suggests, Decoration Day was a date dedicated to decorating the graves of those fallen soldiers. They’d bring flowers, flags, and other symbolic decorations to adorn the headstones of all those who died fighting in the war. Many cities and small towns also held ceremonies or parades on Decoration Day, similar to those held on Memorial Day. It was not until after World War I,that the day was expanded to honor those who have died in all American wars. In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress, though it is still often called Decoration Day. Although Decoration Day has become Memorial Day in most of the country, Decoration Day still exists. Many communities in the Southern United States still observe Decoration Day and its longstanding traditions.

In 1996, a group of school children touring Washington D.C. was unable to define the purpose of Memorial Day. When asked, they responded that Memorial Day was “the day the pools open.” In response, the White House created the National Moment of Remembrance as an addition to Memorial Day. Each Memorial Day at 3:00 pm, Americans are encouraged to stop what they’re doing and take part in a moment of quiet remembrance.

Whether your upcoming Memorial Day will be spent working or enjoying time with family and friends, we all owe it to those in service to appreciate the day and express our thanks. It may come and go like any other day, but it’s an important opportunity to reflect on the sacrifices others have made.

This weekend instead of saying Happy Memorial Day when you encounter military personnel, try saying –

  • “Thank you for your service”
  • “Enjoy the holiday”
  • “I hope you have a relaxing Memorial Day”
  • “Take care today”
  • “Thank you for making this day possible”
  • “You’re on my mind today, thank you”
  • “You and your service are so important to me”