Memorial Day has its roots in the years following the Civil War. In the nineteenth century, on Decoration Day*, people honored their loved ones who died serving our country in war, by decorating their graves. In 1971, it was designated Memorial Day, a federal holiday.
I prefer the old name, though, because it conveys so much more. While some still decorate graves on Memorial Day, it has the feel of a day that is celebrated at-arm’s-length, like something that we watch on TV. That lulls us into forgetting that death—and great suffering—is part of war.
Perhaps you remember the controversial, reauthorized ban by President George W. Bush, on the media publishing photographs of our returning dead from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I believe that when we see the awful results of war conveyed by flag-draped coffins, we cannot hide from our responsibility to make peace.
What’s a parent or teacher to do with that huge agenda? After Memorial Day, teach toward peace. Teach children to write letters to representatives, senators,to the secretary of defense, and to the president, and express their opinions. Hang your American flag every day.
Most importantly, teach children how to make peace with neighbors, friends, and family, and then set the example. Our world has never needed this practice more than it does today.
*Click here to read “Decoration Day” by Sarah Orne Jewett