Memorial Day is a holiday for mourning military personnel who died while serving in the United States armed forces. American flags are placed upon their graves and many people honor them by visiting cemeteries and memorials on that day. Formerly, Memorial Day had been called Decoration Day because of the flowers, flags, and wreaths left at gravesides.
The name Memorial Day gradually became more common after World War II but was not declared the official name until 1967. In 1968 Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which moved President’s Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, and Memorial Day, from their traditional dates to specified Mondays to create convenient three-day weekends. Memorial Day was moved from May 30th to the last Monday in May. The holiday is also considered the unofficial beginning of summer.
"In Flanders Fields" is a war poem written by Canadian physician Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae. He was inspired to write it after presiding over the funeral of friend and fellow soldier in 1915. The poem has been often quoted and has been translated into many languages. “In Flanders Fields” the poppy flowers mentioned in it are prominent symbols associated with both Veterans and Memorial Day.
The poppy of wartime remembrance is Papaver rhoeas, the red-flowered corn poppy. This common poppy is an annual wildflower. Its seeds can lie dormant for up to 80 years, germinating once the soil is disturbed. This led to it being coined as a symbol of remembrance after World War I when flushes of poppies grew in churned up battlefields. The blooms typically last from late spring to early summer. While the flowers are commonly scarlet red, hybridization and selective breeding have led to several cultivators with blooms in shades of yellow, orange, pink, and white.
You can teach about the history of Memorial Day and about Papaver rhoeas as a way to honor those who sacrificed for our country. All you need are these items:
Check out this video for a quick tutorial on how to make a Memorial Day Poppy Wreath:
An organized write-up of the lesson, along with a vocabulary review crossword can be found here.
Gertrude Katz has spent over 30 years teaching K-12 public school students all major subjects. She has taught biology and education at the college level. The majority of her career has been spent instructing biology at the secondary level.