CostumesGift IdeasGreeting CardsHolidaysParty Planning

Decoration Day in the South May Have Inspired Memorial Day

Updated on May 16, 2016
ThelmaC profile image

Thelma is an award winning writer living in the Blue Ridge Mountains. She enjoys writing about rural America, especially Appalachia.

Photo of an Antique Postcard
Photo of an Antique Postcard | Source

Decoration Day in the South, a Tradition for Centuries

Since before the Civil War, it has been a tradition of many Southerners, especially those in the southern Appalachian mountains, to celebrate Decoration Day. Each year, family members "come home" from afar to gather at their family cemeteries on a specified Sunday in spring or summer to honor their dead relatives. Everyone helps to clean the cemetery, straighten old tombstones and decorate the graves with flowers, hence the name Decoration Day.

After the clean up is complete, a religious service is held. Preachers offer up prayers for ancestors that have left this earth and family members that are still among the living. Then it's time for the guitars, banjos, harmonicas and fiddles to come out to play some good old time gospel songs like "I'll Fly Away", "Will the Circle be Unbroken" and many others.

One of the best parts of Decoration Day is "dinner on the grounds". This is what people in other parts of the country call a potluck dinner with family members sharing a variety of favorite dishes. Makeshift tables are laden with a meal fit for a king. And no Decoration Day in the South is complete without ice cold watermelon.

This is a glimpse of a tradition that has lasted for years and it continues today.

Source

Did These Old Time Celebrations Inspire Memorial Day?

It is thought by some that this yearly recognition of the dead by Southerners was an inspiration for the salute to the fallen soldiers of the Civil War, both Union and Confederate, which would lead to the Memorial Day celebration of modern times.

The practice of recognizing the Civil War dead began not long after the war ended and was observed on May 30th each year. The occasion was known as Decoration Day but gradually over the years the name would change. By the end of World War II, it was commonly called Memorial Day.

In 1967, the name was officially changed by the federal government to Memorial Day and it became a time to reflect on all of the servicemen from every branch of the military who died while serving.

As part of Memorial Day observances, volunteers place small American flags at each grave in our 131 national cemeteries as well as in other graveyards.


Difference Between Memorial Day and Veterans Day

Many people are confused about the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Memorial Day is a remembrance of deceased military members that died while serving our country. Veterans Day is an opportunity to recognize all present and past members of the military, living or dead.

Antique Memorial Day Greeting Card
Antique Memorial Day Greeting Card | Source

Controversy Surrounding Memorial Day

In 1968, a law named the Uniform Monday Holiday Act moved the celebration of four different holidays from their original dates to Mondays to give workers a three day weekend.

The holidays effected were:

  • Washington's Birthday moved from February 22 to the third Monday in February
  • Memorial Day was changed from May 30 to the last Monday in May
  • Columbus Day moved from October 12 to the second Monday in October
  • Veterans Day changed from November 11 to the fourth Monday in October (note that Veterans Day was subsequently moved back to November 11)

Many veteran organizations, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), were offended by the movement of Memorial Day merely to create a three day weekend. Some have said that it slights the memory of the servicemen that gave their lives for their country and others feel that as long as the observance is made, the date doesn't matter. Senator Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, made several unsuccessful attempts, prior to his death in 2012, to change the observance date back to May 30.

Antique Decoration Day Greeting Card
Antique Decoration Day Greeting Card | Source

Have you ever attended a Decoration Day in the South?

See results

Honoring Our Dead

We will never know for certain if the Southern tradition of Decoration Day was the inspiration for Memorial Day. But the similarities do exist ... whether it is dinner on the grounds or a family barbecue, decorating a cemetery with flowers or flags, or the singing of gospel tunes or playing Taps on a trumpet. Regardless of the date it is celebrated, the intention is the same; Honoring the dead, whether it is your kinfolk, the servicemen that gave their lives for our freedom, or both.

Copyright 2013 by Thelma R. Coffone

Another Interesting Article About Decoration Day

Fellow writer, Victoria Lynn, has written an interesting article about Decoration Day in her hometown of Elizabeth, Arkansas. You can read it here: http://victorialynn.hubpages.com/hub/Celebrating-Memorial-Day-at-the-Cemetery-An-Old-Fashioned-Decoration-Day

© 2013 Thelma Raker Coffone

Please Share Your Comments About "Decoration Day in the South"

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 3 years ago from the short journey

      Congratulations on your holiday Hub of the Day award for this look at Decoration Day/Memorial Day. No matter what we call the day, taking time to remember those who sacrificed their lives in service to our country and to teach others more about history is important.

    • Victoria Lynn profile image

      Victoria Lynn 3 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      Yes, ThelmaC, thanks for the link! I'm glad we linked up our hubs!!!

    • janshares profile image

      Janis Leslie Evans 3 years ago from Washington, DC

      Thanks for the history lesson on Decoration Day, ThelmaC. I don't recall ever hearing about it up north where I grew up. This was a great way for you to commemorate Memorial Day. Congratulations on HOTD. Voted up and interesting.

    • ThelmaC profile image
      Author

      Thelma Raker Coffone 3 years ago from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA

      mary615 your vote of confidence means a great deal to me. Thanks for sharing my hub!

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 3 years ago from Florida

      Congrats on this timely Hub being HOTD since today is Memorial Day! I'm from the south and I don't remember the day being called Decoration Day, but everyone got together for parades and cook outs.

      Very informative Hub. Voted UP and shared.

    • ThelmaC profile image
      Author

      Thelma Raker Coffone 3 years ago from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA

      Patty Inglish I have admired your work on here for years and your comments mean so much to me. I am thrilled with my first Hub of the Day. Thanks for reading my work.

    • ThelmaC profile image
      Author

      Thelma Raker Coffone 3 years ago from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA

      Victoria Lynn, thank you my friend for the nice comment. Hope this honor has also brought some readers your way via the link in my hub about your Memorial Day article.

    • ThelmaC profile image
      Author

      Thelma Raker Coffone 3 years ago from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA

      The Dirt Farmer (Jill) you would notice the color of the flowers. lol

      I really enjoy reading your hubs!

    • ThelmaC profile image
      Author

      Thelma Raker Coffone 3 years ago from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA

      rebeccamealey thank you my fellow north Georgian for your nice comments!

    • ThelmaC profile image
      Author

      Thelma Raker Coffone 3 years ago from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA

      ChrisMcDade8 thanks for sharing with us your memory of your family visiting the family cemetery on Memorial Day. I appreciate your comment!

    • ThelmaC profile image
      Author

      Thelma Raker Coffone 3 years ago from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA

      Delores Monet I also always wondered what the big deal was about moving some holidays to Mondays. It makes perfect sense to me.

    • ThelmaC profile image
      Author

      Thelma Raker Coffone 3 years ago from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA

      swilliams thank you very much for the compliment of displaying historical events with words and art. My love for history must be shining through!

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 3 years ago from North America

      In my neighborhood as I grew up, several older residents called Memorial Day "Decoration Day" and now your Hub lets me know why. I like the idea of gathering in the cemetery and cleaning and decorating it all together.

      I remember when the Monday holiday changes occurred after 1968 and for me, it made no difference, because I had to work all the holidays anyway, especially in restaurant work. I do tire of all the special sales held on patriotic holidays, though.

      Rated this Hub up and more and congratulations on HOTD.

    • Victoria Lynn profile image

      Victoria Lynn 3 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      Congratulations on Hub of the Day! Well deserved!

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image

      Jill Spencer 3 years ago from United States

      Hi ThelmaC! Congrats on HOTD! I'm from Appalachia, and back home folks still spend Memorial Day cleaning up family plots and/or putting flowers on the graves of family members. Later, we usually all eat together, picnic-style. I've noticed the past few years that because of the national emphasis on the armed forces that the flowers are often red, white and blue.

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 3 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      Very interesting. I think a lot of churches around here still hold their own Memorial Day on a Sunday in May, maybe or maybe not on the traditional Memorial Day weekend, so this theory certainly makes sense. Good job, and congrats!

    • ChrisMcDade8 profile image

      Christine McDade 3 years ago from Southwest Florida

      Very interesting article. Growing up in the midwest, I was unaware of this tradition. However, I do have in-laws who have spoken of the tradition of going to the cemetery in their small towns on Memorial Day to honor those who have passed.

      Thanks for the information. Voted up!

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 3 years ago from East Coast, United States

      I can't believe that it was not until1967 that Memorial Day was given its official name. And I always wondered why people would argue about a holiday being moved to a Monday. With so many families living apart, in different cities, etc. this makes it so much easier for people to get together.

    • swilliams profile image

      Emunah La Paz 3 years ago from Arizona

      Hi Victoria! Your pics are classic you really have a gift for displaying historical events in a beautiful picture of words and art. Voted up!

    • ThelmaC profile image
      Author

      Thelma Raker Coffone 4 years ago from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA

      Victoria Lynn I just checked out your hub on Decoration Day. You did a great job and I enjoyed your pics. I put a link on mine to yours and appreciate your offer to do the same for me.

      I think the young people will want to attend once they are a little older. As their parents and other family members pass away, they will see it as a way to be close to their spirit, if only for that one day each year.

      Check out my new hub on Hummingbird Cake. I know an

      Arkansas gal like you has eaten it before, probably on Decoration Day.

    • Alastar Packer profile image

      Alastar Packer 4 years ago from North Carolina

      My pleasure Thelma! How are those GA mountains looking this late Spring?

    • ThelmaC profile image
      Author

      Thelma Raker Coffone 4 years ago from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA

      Alastar I always appreciate your comments on my hubs. Thanks for following me!

    • Alastar Packer profile image

      Alastar Packer 4 years ago from North Carolina

      Thank you for writing this fine article, Thelma. I believe the Southern Decoration Day did lead to Memorial Day, or at least could be considered the prototype for it.

    • Victoria Lynn profile image

      Victoria Lynn 4 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      Thelma, I just came from Decoration Day in my small hometown over the weekend. I've been going since I was a little girl! We decorate the graves and have a potluck in the cemetery. I always wonder if the tradition will die off once the older generation passes away. Not as many young people come anymore. It's neat to see all the townspeople I grew up with! I wrote a hub about my experiences with Decoration Day. I'm going to link yours to mine! :-)

    • ThelmaC profile image
      Author

      Thelma Raker Coffone 4 years ago from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA

      BobR thank you for your very nice comments and most of all, THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE!

    • profile image

      BobR 4 years ago

      Thanks for the article, enjoyed it very much. I am from the south, Georgia, but was away for twenty one years in the Air Force. I was always stationed either in the north, N.Y., Washington, Seattle, or overseas. I had never heard or have forgotten about Decoration Day. When I think about Memorial Day I am always emotionally effected for a short time. I am so thankful for all those that gave THEIR ALL so we could celebrate this day, and still BE FREE.

    • ThelmaC profile image
      Author

      Thelma Raker Coffone 4 years ago from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA

      MizBejabbers you made my day! Thanks so much for your kind words.

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 4 years ago

      What a great hub about an old Southern tradition. I think every Southerner remembers Decoration Day, but I don't remember it being called that. I'll chalk that up to bad memory. I’m glad to read it because just this morning, Mr. B asked me what Memorial Day was. He was confused about the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day. After reading your hub, I know now that I gave him the correct explanation. Thanks. Voted you Up ++

    • ThelmaC profile image
      Author

      Thelma Raker Coffone 4 years ago from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA

      Thanks for your comments Mark. As you and I have talked about before, we only live a few miles apart. We have Decoration Day in my town also but I had never heard of it before moving here 20 years ago. I lived in the south all of my life but wasn't aware of Decoration Day prior to moving to Georgia. Thanks for reading my hub and I enjoy following you!

    • c mark walker profile image

      Charles Mark Walker 4 years ago from Jasper Georgia

      A wonderful Southern traditions article Thelma. Many churches in our neighborhood still have decoration day.

    Click to Rate This Article