Memorial Day is a day when we can all remember and honor those who have died while serving in our United States Armed Forces. Observed on the last Monday in May, this year’s Memorial Day is Monday, May 27.

Americans have been honoring this day on behalf of all those who have lost their lives serving our country since 1868 when General John A. Logan issued a proclamation calling for what was then known as ‘Decoration Day’ to be observed annually and nationwide. He was Commander in Chief of the Grand Army of the republic, an organization of and for Union Civil War veterans.

With his proclamation, Logan adopted the Memorial Day practice that had begun in the Southern states of the U.S three years earlier, whereby families would decorate the graves of distant relatives with flowers. This year, take time to be sure that in your family, Memorial Day is more than just a long weekend and the unofficial start of the summer season, try to find ways of showing your patriotism and gratitude to the fallen and encourage friends and family to do the same.

A special day with simple beginnings

On June 3, 1861, Warrenton Virginia was the location of the first Civil War soldier’s grave to be decorated (Richmond Times article, published in 1906.) In 1862, women in Savannah, Georgia decorated Confederate soldiers’ graves and in 1863 the dedication at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania was a ceremony of commemoration at the graves of dead soldiers. Some claim therefore that President Abraham Lincoln was the founder of Memorial Day and commemorations of the fallen became more widespread following his own assassination. The day only became an official federal holiday in 1971.

Place flowers for the fallen

Today, many people still mark the day by placing flowers on the graves of veterans and taking the opportunity to get together as a family. Indeed, a White House address in 2010 stated that the last Monday in May was selected as the optimal date for flowers to be in bloom in North.

If you live far from the final resting place of anyone you know, decorate the grave of a stranger. Or, find out whether there is an Adopt a Grave program in your community. These programs aim to ensure that the graves of World War One soldiers are not neglected and families all over the country have taken on the maintenance of a grave local to them, not just placing flowers on Memorial Day, but by keeping them clean and free of debris, what better way to honor a fallen soldier and teach your grandkids to follow suit.

Or, if you would like to sponsor a thank you bouquet, you can do so through the Memorial Day foundation. On Memorial Day weekend, the bouquet you’ve sponsored will be placed at war memorials on the Mall in Washington, D.C and similar memorial day flowers schemes operate for most of the military cemeteries in the U.S. As well as marking the graves of family and loved ones with flowers, there are several other ways to mark this special date in our calendar.

Attend a parade or memorial service

All over the country there are Memorial Day parades to celebrate our fallen heroes. Look in your local newspaper to find something in your area or call the closest American Legion. Bring some lawn chairs and a cooler (if permitted) and celebrate the holiday by watching the parade go by. Attending will show your patriotism and gratitude for the efforts made by others to defend the country. If you can’t attend a parade, be sure to take part in the National Moment of Remembrance, pausing at 3.00pm local time for a moment of silence to remember and honor those who have died in service to our nation.

Fly the American flag at half mast
Do this from sunrise till noon on Memorial Day as a mark of respect. The U.S. flag should be higher than your state, county or establishment flags. If you have novelty flags, consider temporarily removing them as a mark of respect.

Spend time with family

For many of us, tradition is to mark the unofficial start of the summer vacation season with a family barbecue. Whether you throw a barbecue, hold a special dinner or just relax in the backyard, Memorial Day is a great day to spend with people you love. If you have grandkids, find out what they have learnt at school about Memorial Day and ensure they understand this is a day to honor our military veterans and fallen soldiers. If the youngest members of the family develop a habit of honoring Memorial Day now they will most likely teach the same habit to their children too. Of course, if you need furniture, a new barbecue or other home improvement items, be sure to check out the appropriate stores for their Memorial Day sale items. Retailers long ago switched on to holding sales all weekend long and sometimes throughout the following week, both online and in their stores so you can shop AND find time to show your gratitude to the fallen.

Thank a veteran
On Memorial Day we can take time to remember those who fought and lived to tell about it too. So thank those people you know who currently serve our country. Or perhaps take some flowers or cookies to a veterans hospital if there is one in your area. You could even consider making a donation on this day to a charity that supports the families of those killed in combat.

Watch the Memorial Day Concert
This concert occurs on the west lawn of the Capitol in Washington, D.C. on the eve of Memorial Day, Sunday May 26th at 8.00 pm Eastern Time. Tune into the PBS broadcast of the performance by the National Symphony Orchestra and special guests from the worlds of music, film and TV.

Whatever you choose to do this Memorial Day, by showing your patriotism and respect and celebrating the holiday with family and friends, you can have a joyous and meaningful holiday.