Written by our Founder and CEO, our Celebrations Pulse Sunday Letters aim to engage with our community. From sharing stories to welcoming your ideas, we want to help you to express, connect, and celebrate the important people in your life.
This weekend marks the unofficial start of summer. It’s when we dust off and fire up barbecues, remove pool covers, and find more than a few bargains at stores. Families and friends gather in backyards or on beaches to celebrate the return of warm weather with hamburgers, hotdogs, and, perhaps, even a few cold beverages.
Amid all the celebrations, it’s important not to forget the holiday’s solemn purpose, which is to honor the sacrifices of the men and women who gave up their lives for our country. Originally known as Decoration Day, Memorial Day traces its roots to the 1860s, when citizens placed flowers on the graves of soldiers killed during the Civil War. After World War I, the name changed to Memorial Day and it came to be known as a day to honor fallen soldiers from all U.S. wars.
Rituals, traditions, and celebrations around remembrance – whether for fallen soldiers or a beloved family member – help define our communities and connect us to our shared history.
How remembrance rituals tie us together
On Monday, the President and military leaders will place a wreath at the tomb of the Unknown Soldiers in Arlington, Virginia. Across the country, flags and flowers will be placed at the final resting spot of fallen soldiers across the country. The day will also be marked by ceremonies at veterans halls and with parades on Main Streets.
Our colleagues at 1-800-FLOWERS recently spoke with Dr. Bill Hoy, a professor of medical humanities at Baylor University who has studied acts of remembrance across cultures and throughout history. He has found that they’ve been remarkably similar around the world for thousands of years.
One such common act is the placement of significant symbols during a memorial service. “Flowers are an extraordinary example,” Hoy says. “My colleagues found that 20,000 to 60,000 years ago, vegetation was arranged in symbolic patterns, such as around the head. This was the perfect purposeful placing of flora in the grave.”
Another theme is the gathering of community. Hoy’s research shows that modern wakes and funerals that pull together family and friends are rooted in history. “Virtually no society allows the bereaved to go it alone — they always gather around them, offering aid, support, encouragement. Humans are a pack animal, especially in times of crisis,” he explains.
These and other themes he’s identified occur whether it’s a family grieving the loss of a loved one or a community remembering its fallen soldiers on Memorial Day.
The importance of community remembrance
Local and national memorials and monuments often incorporate traditional acts of remembrance on a very large scale. “Erecting a statue or building a monument is a ritual and an action. We do something,” Hoy explains. “We don’t want to forget the past and what happened — we want to tell the story to the next generation.”
Hoy says he loves visiting museums and memorials in Washington, D.C., and watching families and school trips talking about what a particular monument represents. “I saunter up behind them and listen,” he says. “Museums and monuments and memorials give us a way to tell a story, and it’s an emotionally safe way to hold an emotion.”
Activities like those that occur on Memorial Day forge connections between the past and the present, says Jennifer Egert, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist practicing in New York City.
“A visual gesture such candle lighting, laying of a wreath, parades — these provide clear, participatory experiences that often represent distant events and in doing so, help us connect to these past events in the present moment,” she says.
Celebrating community connections
It’s comforting that we have such a strong bond across generations, people, and times. In fact, when we are remembering our loved ones or our soldiers, we’re part of a global community, sharing our sadness but also our strength as we forge ahead, living our lives the best way we can.
Even as Memorial Day connects us with our past, it also reinforces our connections to the present. It gives us a reason to celebrate the bonds we share with our neighbors, families, and friends – the communities our soldiers fought so bravely to preserve.
All the Best,
Chris & Jim