To many Americans, Memorial Day is just a fun three-day weekend that marks the unofficial kick off to summer. It's not rare to come across an American who doesn't completely understand Memorial Day, and the purpose behind all of the celebration.
But for veterans, along with their friends and families, Memorial Day means so much more. If you're an older American, you may have volunteered for military services during your lifetime, or may have even been drafted for WWII, the Korean War or the Vietnam War. Or perhaps you stayed home and served the war efforts domestically by working factory jobs while your loved ones went overseas.
"Memorial Day was established as a day of somber remembrance."
Regardless of the role you played, you likely remember a time when American's day-to-day lives were impacted by national military activity. You may have lost a friend or relative during their service. With the holiday approaching, now's the perfect time to talk to your grandkids and educate them on what Memorial Day is really about.
The history of Memorial Day
Memorial Day was once known as Decoration Day and was first established in 1868, according to the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. Unlike Veteran's Day, which aims to honor all military members for their service, Memorial Day was established as a day of somber remembrance for those who lost their lives during their service to their country. For the first few years it was reserved specifically to those who gave their lives in military service during the Civil War - But as time passed, it was expanded to honor those all those lost in wars after WWI.
It became a national federal holiday in 1971 and has been celebrated on the last Monday of May ever since, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs adds.
Sharing Memorial Day with grandkids
While many veterans may still enjoy spending time with loved ones at a backyard barbecue on Memorial Day, they may also still want to acknowledge the original intent of the holiday. Educating your grandchildren on its meaning can help you spend quality time together and share more of your personal and family history with them, helping to create a stronger bond.
Here are some ideas for how you can teach your grandkids about Memorial Day and ways to honor the day together:
- Tell them about your own military history. The world your grandkids live in is vastly different than the one you grew up in. Ask them what they know about Memorial Day, and explain what life was like for you when you were their age. Give a kid-friendly synopsis of how your service impacted your life and point out some key differences between your childhood and theirs. Kids are often fascinated to discover that there was once a world without smartphones, televisions or even radio. Share some of your favorite stories with them and recount treasured family memories you want to pass down.
- Stop by family cemeteries. If you have family members who have passed on who once served in the military, gather up your grandchildren for a trip to pay your respects at the cemetery. Bring flowers and flags to place by their headstones and tell your grandkids stories about who they are visiting. Start by going out to breakfast or lunch first and spend time talking and explaining what you'll be doing that day. By emphasizing the need to honor and remember your loved ones, you can make this a positive and educational experience for your grandkids and help them learn more about their own histories. Just be sure to follow the guidelines of the cemeteries you visit - some have rules about what can be left at the plots and how long they can stay there. You should also be sure to use flags made of weather-resistant materials like nylon or cotton to make sure they aren't too damaged by the elements, out of respect for the flag.
- Visit a veterans' hospital. Military.com suggests that you spend Memorial Day volunteering for living veterans with your grandkids. Talk to the staff at a local veteran hospital and see what you can do - perhaps you can bring gifts or snacks and visit with some of the residents. It'd be a great way to give back and help your grandkids connect to the holiday more. Plus, you'll all feel good about doing something kind for others, which can bring you closer together and make a cherished memory to share.
- Go to local memorials. If you live in an area that has some kind of veteran's museum or memorial, TIME for Kids recommends taking a trip there as a great way to spend Memorial Day with your grandkids. Learn more about the U.S. military together and share more stories from your life or your family's as you point to relevant exhibits.
- Attend a parade. Many towns have parades on Memorial Day. Find one near you and attend with your grandkids. They likely see vets from a variety of generations and hear presentations on the meaning of the day. It's a lighter way to honor the meaning and history of the holiday, which can be especially good if you're trying to spend time with younger grandchildren.
Whatever you choose to do, make sure that you spend just as much of the day enjoying each other's company as you spend on providing valuable history lessons and remembering why Memorial Day has been created.. Intergenerational connections will benefit both you and your grandkids, and you'll all treasure these kind of memories for years to come. You may also inspire new family traditions that can be carried on for future generations, ensuring that more of your family history and the significance of Memorial Day is shared with those you love.
Source: Sunrise Senior Living