It’s Memorial Day Weekend. While many welcome this weekend as the kickoff of summer, Memorial Day is meant to be a day to honor those who sacrificed their lives while serving in the military.
Earlier this week I saw a picture of a man wearing a red poppy – something I associate with England and other European countries on Remembrance Day (celebrated in November). Thanks to a lovely article from Strategas – one of our research partners – today I learned that the custom of wearing poppies actually began in the United States and happens here on Memorial Day.
The inspiration to use the poppy as a symbol of remembrance came from the poem In Flanders Fields. The famous poem was written by Canadian doctor John McCrae during World War I after he saw bright red poppies blooming on the fields where so many had died.
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.
American professor and philanthropist Moina Michael was greatly moved by the poem. Teaching a class of disabled veterans after the war, she realized many returning soldiers had great financial need. She decided to lead an effort to sell silk poppies to provide financial and occupational support for veterans. By 1921 the poppy was adopted as a symbol of remembrance for war veterans by the American Legion Auxiliary.
The wearing of poppies on Memorial Day in the U.S. was more popular before the holiday became part of a three-day-weekend and the unofficial start of summer in 1971. While it has somewhat disappeared from American popular culture, the Friday before Memorial Day – today – is National Poppy Day. Poppies are still handmade by veterans as part of their therapeutic rehabilitation and are distributed across the country by the American Legion Auxiliary in exchange for donations – money that goes to assist disabled and hospitalized veterans.
If you get the chance to wear a poppy this weekend, wear it with pride. And as you’re enjoying the holiday pause for just a moment to truly reflect on those who served and sacrificed.
Written by Michelle O’Brien, Manager of Marketing & Communications