Decoration Day in the South May Have Inspired Memorial Day

Updated on December 15, 2017
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

Questions & Answers

    © 2013 Thelma Raker Coffone

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

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      • profile image

        sharon-truitt-karn@hotmail.com 

        4 months ago

        My Grandmother was born in 1883 and live next door to us. We always went to the cemetery and put flowers on relatives graves. My Grandmother always called it Decoration Day. They did have a Military Service but I always thought it was to put something on the graves of those you loved and the Military. The graves of those we loved should be remembered along with all Military personal that have died.

      • profile image

        Vicki 

        4 months ago

        My grandmother always called today Decoration Day!

      • RTalloni profile image

        RTalloni 

        4 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 

        4 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 

        4 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 imageAUTHOR

        Thelma Raker Coffone 

        4 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 

        4 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 imageAUTHOR

        Thelma Raker Coffone 

        4 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 imageAUTHOR

        Thelma Raker Coffone 

        4 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 imageAUTHOR

        Thelma Raker Coffone 

        4 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 imageAUTHOR

        Thelma Raker Coffone 

        4 years ago from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA

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

      • ThelmaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Thelma Raker Coffone 

        4 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 imageAUTHOR

        Thelma Raker Coffone 

        4 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 imageAUTHOR

        Thelma Raker Coffone 

        4 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 MS 

        4 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

        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 

        4 years ago from Arkansas, USA

        Congratulations on Hub of the Day! Well deserved!

      • The Dirt Farmer profile image

        Jill Spencer 

        4 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 

        4 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 

        4 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 

        4 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.

      • profile image

        swilliams 

        4 years ago

        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 imageAUTHOR

        Thelma Raker Coffone 

        5 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 

        5 years ago from North Carolina

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

      • ThelmaC profile imageAUTHOR

        Thelma Raker Coffone 

        5 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 

        5 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 

        5 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 imageAUTHOR

        Thelma Raker Coffone 

        5 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 

        5 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 imageAUTHOR

        Thelma Raker Coffone 

        5 years ago from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA

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

      • MizBejabbers profile image

        Doris James-MizBejabbers 

        5 years ago from Beautiful South

        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 imageAUTHOR

        Thelma Raker Coffone 

        5 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 

        5 years ago from Jasper Georgia

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

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, holidappy.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://holidappy.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)