Remember why we remember the day


The little, red patches of sunburn on my children's faces are indicators of a good time they had this weekend.

Even though the actual first day of summer isn't until June 20, people who live in the South just accept and know Memorial Day is the true first weekend of summer since temperatures are already reaching the 90s.

Memorial Day weekend is also about the time pools start opening and grills are being lit for a large barbecue get-together.

We are still hesitant to be around too many people as the coronavirus pandemic lingers and since we don’t have a pool in our backyard, we decided to create our own backyard pool party.

We set up an 8-foot round plastic kiddie pool, broke out a couple beach chairs, popped open an umbrella and filled a cooler with drinks and snacks.

Once the sunscreen had set it and music was playing on my phone, we were all set.

My son and daughter are still at the ages where they are easily amused and boy, were they excited. They ran straight to our small, plastic pool and jumped in without hesitation.

They spent hours playing in the water this weekend. They even had a blast just leaning on a float that took up about half of the pool space. Our dog even jumped in a few times too to cool off from the hot sun. It was our own backyard utopia.

Because we didn’t get together with a group of friends, the time with just my little family also gave me some time to think and reflect on Memorial Day itself.

How did a day that’s meant to be in honor of the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military become a day of play? Americans love a good excuse to throw a party, but we need to take some time with these holidays to remember why we are celebrating them. I honestly can’t remember it ever being discussed at length in my house when I was growing up.

And so, I decided to do a little history digging.

For those of who you didn’t know, Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day. It originated in the years following the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971.

The day was intended to be spent by visiting cemeteries or memorials before the family gatherings and parades took place.

Did you also know each year on Memorial Day a national moment of remembrance is supposed to take place at 3 p.m. local time?

According to, is unclear where the Memorial Day tradition originated. Some records show that one of the earliest Memorial Day commemoration was organized by a group of freed slaves in Charleston, South Carolina, less than a month after the Confederacy surrendered in 1865.

Wherever its origins begin, the federal government in 1966 declared Waterloo, New York, the official birthplace of Memorial Day.

Waterloo — which first celebrated the day on May 5, 1866 — was chosen because it hosted an annual, community-wide event, during which businesses closed and residents decorated the graves of soldiers with flowers and flags.

There is plenty more history to be read on the day, which I do recommend reading more on, but this is the gist of it.

In years to come on Memorial Day, let’s take some time to acknowledge why many people have this day off work. It certainly isn’t just for the sole purpose of throwing a party.

If you do have fallen war soldiers from your family, honor them by telling their story. Teach your children about who they were and how they died. Take a ride by local cemeteries and explain why there are flags placed on headstones.

I am grateful no one in my family has ever died in war, but I do know plenty of veterans to thank for their service.

If we are going to spend a day swimming and cooking out, the least we can do is remember why.

Catherine Kirk is managing editor of the Delta Democrat-Times. She can be reached at