Ah…it’s right around the corner. It’s the time when we break out the rusty charcoal grill, the hamburger buns, our favorite beverages, and gather together to enjoy the official start to summer. It’s Memorial Day weekend!
Wait a minute—it feels like I am missing something. Barbeque sauce? Check. Coolers full of ice? Check. Lawn chairs, sunscreen, picnic blankets? Check, check, check.
Oh yeah, now I remember…it’s the poppies. And the flags. And the parades. And the discussion with my children as to why they do not have to go to school on Memorial Day.
As the wife of an active duty Army soldier, I have the daily privilege of living around the men and women that we honor on Memorial Day. I have attended numerous memorials for soldiers in my husband’s units, as well as community Memorial Day events. I remember being particularly touched at one of these events by an eighty-year-old veteran in a wheelchair wiping away tears. He was remembering buddies whose lives had been cut short on foreign soil over six decades ago.
One of the challenges of having a family in a free country is teaching our children about the cost of freedom. It is important to teach them to appreciate the sacrifices others have made. But there is a delicate balance between teaching them this important message and over-burdening their little hearts. Fortunately there are many ways to impart these lessons.
We have found that our children respond to different levels of discussion and activities around this subject. Our teenage daughters really enjoy discussing the “why” behind the different conflicts in our nation’s history. Our pre-teen son loves to read real-life accounts of battles and historical fiction. And our little ones love the “pomp and circumstance” of military ceremonies, parades, and other celebrations.
This year, we have the great fortune of living just a few short miles from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the site of the famous Civil War battle. Because this year marks the 150th anniversary of this battle, we are making special plans to visit the battlefield.
Along with the barbeques and other fun events that come with Memorial Day, take time this year to teach your children about the importance of this holiday. Here are some things you could do:
Many small towns still have Memorial Day parades. Make plans to attend as a family.
If there is veterans’ hospital or rest home in your area, call and find out if you can visit. Maybe you and your children can bake cookies and take them for the patients or residents and staff.
Visit your library and check out books about soldiers, famous battles, and the history of Memorial Day. Some of my children’s favorites are The Wall by Eve Bunting, A Boy at War by Harry Mazar (series of 3 books), and Memorial Day (Holiday Histories) by Mir Tamim Ansary.
Have your children make some simple crafts related to the holiday, especially poppies. Click here for a link to just one example. While making them, you can read the poem “In Flanders Field,” by John McCrae, which was the inspiration for the tradition using poppies to remember our fallen:
In Flanders Field
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
Visit the Any Soldier website to learn how to send letters and/or care packages to troops overseas. They really do appreciate the support and the fact that someone is thinking about them. (My husband has said that one of the worst feelings is going to mail call and never hearing your own name called out.)
Finally, if you know anyone who has lost a family member to the service of our nation, please take some time to thank them for their sacrifice. These people are known as Gold Star families. For them, every day is Memorial Day.
I believe that the service members who gave their lives would want us to continue with our fun traditions that make this country great. They would want us to have backyard barbeques. They would want us to play baseball or football with our kids. They would want us to laugh and enjoy the blessings that liberty secures for us. But they would also want us to take some time to remember those who died for freedom and to teach our families what that means.
QUESTION: Do you and your family have a special tradition to honor fallen servicemen and women?
CHALLENGE: Take some time to read about the meaning and history of Memorial Day and discuss it with your children. (See links below.) Consider starting a new tradition that helps your family remember the meaning of Memorial Day. And, please take some time to enjoy the fruits of liberty—enjoy your families and the time you have together.
Post images provided by Sadie McCurry.
Featured image background from Shutterstock, insert image from Simon Howdon/FreeDigitalPhotos; graphics added by Anna Jenkins.