Kicking the long weekend off with a barbeque? While there’s certainly nothing wrong with enjoying a day off, it’s important to remember the origins of Memorial Day. Established on May 30, 1868 to honor the nation’s war dead, the holiday was originally called “Decoration Day” because people laid flowers on the graves of the fallen. No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, today’s military heroes deserve respect. There are lots of ways to teach your children to honor our nation’s defenders.
- Let those colors fly. Memorial Day is the perfect excuse to dust off your flag. Hoist it to half-mast, a position reserved only for days when the entire country is in mourning, and raise it high at noon to honor the living. Don’t have a flag? Help your little one make one from construction paper, and post it in your window. At 3 p.m., observe a moment of silent remembrance. Even kids can understand how to keep quiet for a minute.
- Go for a visit. Many people who have lost loved ones to war take this opportunity to visit their graves, but you don’t have to be a relative to visit a National Cemetery or memorial service. Bring flowers if you like, and tell your children about the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. Sound morbid, grim, or too scary for a young child? While you needn’t go into much detail, even young children know that people die. Explaining that some die while bravely protecting others gives meaning.
- Honor the living. Help your kids think up ways to contribute to veterans, long after Memorial Day ends. They can set up a lemonade stand or car wash and donate the profits to Disabled American Veterans. (www.dav.org) Or your family could volunteer together at your local Veterans’ Affairs Hospital. Find it at www1.va.gov/directory/guide/home.asp
- Make a connection. Memorial Day may be about remembering those who have given their service and their lives for our country, but there are soldiers in the field right now.Thousands of American soldiers are serving in danger zones abroad. Many are bored, lonely, afraid, and jonesing for magazines, snacks, personal hygiene products, paper and pens, and cheery letters and pictures. To send a letter or care package to a soldier, try www.anysoldier.com
- Put pencil to paper. While any given war may be divisive and controversial, the Armed Forces go where they’re sent and deserve our full support. There is no better lesson in American citizenship than having your child help you write a letter to your political representative expressing your opinions, whatever they may be.
Then go light that grill!