Memorial Day has become about barbecues and one-day sales. It's an excuse to take Monday off and road-trip to the beach, six-pack in hand and a sunny day ahead. Of course, there's nothing wrong with any of that: whip up a batch of margaritas as you please. But it's also important that kids don't associate the holiday with just summer fun - it's more important than ever to teach them the true meaning behind the day and the sacrifices of others that have led to us being able to enjoy the day.
Perhaps you're a little rusty yourself on the history of Memorial Day. Not to worry - we've put together a cheat sheet for you to brush up on your American history. Here are five things you should know about Memorial Day.
1. It started with the Civil War.
When the Civil War was over, many towns saw their men come home with injuries or not at all. It was a somber time, and one shop owner in Waterloo, New York came up with the idea to close down all the shops in remembrance of these fallen soldiers. Instead, citizens would visit grave sites and memorials to pay respects. A similar ceremony was planned by Retired Major General Jonathan A. Logan, who took veterans around town to decorate the graves of their comrades in arms. It was called Decoration Day then, but became known as Memorial Day in 1882.
2. Memorial Day became a national holiday in 1971.
President Nixon declared the last Monday of May a holiday during his term, and the day was made to be a remembrance to all soldiers who had died fighting for this country. It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would hopefully be in bloom all over the country. Even today, flowers and decorative garlands are a big part of Memorial Day.
3. The whole country celebrates with parades.
From small town America to Washington, D.C., Memorial Day celebrations invariably include a big parade. Usually these marches include veterans and soldiers, former and current, to represent the armed forces and the men and women who keep us safe. It's important to convey to kids that freedom is not something to take for granted: thousands of people fought and died for us to have the privilege of free will and safety. This can raise important conversations about putting others ahead of yourself, and standing up for what you believe in.
4. It's tradition to visit grave sites or memorials.
Take the macabre edge off graveyards for young kids by making it about respect and remembrance. Kids do need to learn about and accept death from an early age, so they can process it correctly, and parents are responsible for guiding this transition. Even if you don't have a relative who served, visit a cemetery and place flowers or flags on the graves of soldiers. Small acts such as this have a big impact on kids with growing minds, and will give them something positive to think about as they learn about what it means to be grateful to someone they have never met.
5. Celebrations are okay.
Just like some people want their funerals to be celebrations of life, so should Memorial Day celebrate the lives of those who lost theirs. March in a parade, have a barbecue and take a trip with your kids, but try to do one thing that brings the day back to its origins, like writing a letter to a soldier overseas or visiting a veterans' hospital with cookies during the day. Balance is key when teaching children, and who knows: it may do you some good as well.
What you (and your kids) should know about Memorial Day