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Why Is The Poppy Associated With Memorial Day?

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Why Is The Poppy Associated With Memorial Day?

Memorial Day is more than just a great excuse for a cookout and a day off from work. The holiday was created to honor the many American men and women who died in military service. This focus on those who made the ultimate sacrifice sets it apart from Veterans’ Day, which honors all military veterans, living and dead.

When is Memorial Day 2019?

Memorial Day is celebrated in the U.S. on the last Monday in May. In 2019, that date is Monday, May 27th. In Canada, Memorial Day is celebrated with Canada Day on July 1st each year (in the provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador), and Remembrance Day on November 11th. Victoria Day May 20, is Canada’s unofficial start to summer.

Why Is The Poppy Associated With Memorial Day?

Poppies are associated with those who died during wartime since World War I.  In the U.S., people wear the red poppy on Memorial Day to honor those who died trying to protect the country, according to The Department of Veterans Affairs. In Canada, poppies are worn on Remembrance Day, November 11th.

The red color is not a symbol of blood, death, or support for war. Instead, poppies were the only flowers that grew in war-torn battlefields. When the countrysides were nothing but mud and devastation, poppy flowers sprouted up and flourished. The sight of the red poppies inspired one Canadian soldier, Colonel John McCrae, to pen a poem in May 1915:

In Flanders Fields

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.

The poem moved so many, especially two women—Anna E. Guerin of France and Moina Michael of Georgia. Together they sold artificial poppies to benefit children left orphaned by the War, and by 1922, the poppy was adopted as the official memorial flower of the VFW. The Friday before Memorial Day was designated as Poppy Day.

Memorial Day History and Facts

Here are some facts and history on the holiday:

  • The day was originally set aside to remember Union soldiers who died during the Civil War, but following World War I, its scope expanded to include those who died in any war or military action. At the end of the Civil War, many U.S. cities held their own memorial observations for their hometown heroes.
  • The idea for a specific holiday came in 1868 from Illinois Senator John Alexander Logan, a former Union general and keynote speaker at one early observation. Logan used his position as commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, a fraternal organization of Union soldiers, to issue a proclamation for a national “Decoration Day” to be observed on May 30 of that year by decorating the tombs of Union soldiers.
  • The name “Memorial Day,” started cropping up from time to time. The new name became more common after World War II, and in 1967 was declared the official name by Federal law.
  • Memorial Day was celebrated on May 30 until 1968, when Congress passed the Uniform Holidays Bill, moving 4 holidays — Columbus Day, Presidents’ Day, Veterans Day and Memorial Day—to designated Mondays in order to create the ever-popular three-day weekends. (Veterans Day eventually reverted to its traditional November 11 date, which mirrors Armistice Day and Remembrance Day celebrations in the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth nations).

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1 Salute Veterans on November 11 - Farmers’ Almanac { 11.01.19 at 1:26 pm }

[…] Memorial Day is a time to remember those who gave their lives for our country, particularly in battle (or from wounds suffered while in combat), while Veterans Day honors all those who have served our country during war or peace, dead or alive. Although the day is primarily intended to thank living veterans for their sacrifices. […]

2 More August Flower Lore - Farmers’ Almanac { 08.04.19 at 8:57 pm }

[…] are most often associated with honoring soldiers who lost their lives at war, and are worn on Memorial Day in the United States and Remembrance Day in […]

3 Susan Higgins { 05.26.19 at 9:52 am }

Hi Jan, We certainly fact check, and have to point out that Canada Day is celebrated as Memorial Day in the provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador on July 1st (we had failed to put that qualifier in this story and have since added it) but we have it in our Canada Day story: https://www.farmersalmanac.com/canada-day-weather-18675. We will also email you this information.

4 Jan R { 05.26.19 at 8:39 am }

I’m saddened that The Farmers Almanac has writers that don’t know what fact checking is. having spent the bigger part of the last 20 years in Canada, I can tell you that Memorial day is called Victoria day up here and was last week. Canada Day is July 1st and is the equivalent to our Independence Day. The entire nation of Canada wear poppies from the first of November through the 11th, Armistice or Remembrance Day. Remembrance Day, originally called Armistice Day, every 11 November at 11 a.m. It marks the end of hostilities during the First World War and an opportunity to recall all those who have served in the nation’s defense. Children up here memorize In Flanders Field like we memorize the pledge.

5 MARY ANN FARRELL { 05.24.19 at 4:37 pm }

It’s sad that Memorial Day has just become a fun holiday for so many people. Especially with what is happening in the world today. More respect needs to be shown toward our military, those who have passed and those who serve today.

6 Cathy { 05.30.16 at 10:35 am }

I remember when I was in elementary school and we had two separate holidays off instead of one for Washington and Lincoln’s birthday. Let’s remember all the people that have helped us get our freedom.

7 Luci { 05.29.16 at 7:38 pm }

it was termed Decoration Day in the north & in the south to commemorate those that were fallen in the Civil War.
it is good to know the history on both sides.
agree with Jennifer: the 3-day weekend did not start until sometime in the 1970’s & it did co-inside MLK day being put on the calendar.

8 Dave Henrie { 05.29.16 at 5:20 pm }

As my Grandmother told me Memorial Day was begun as DECORATION DAY to decorate in remembrance the graves of Union Civil War who died for our country.

9 unicorn { 05.19.15 at 8:43 am }


10 mark gregory { 05.14.15 at 12:56 pm }


11 Mavis { 05.24.14 at 12:56 pm }

Also remember the dedicated service DOGS who have made sacrifices alongside their people!
Many service men and women owe their lives to their service animals. Let’s not forget.

12 lori london { 05.23.14 at 11:05 am }

Our town always starts the weekend off with a concert called “Salute” on Friday evening on the courthouse grounds. They recognize and thank all branches of the military. Good times.

13 Cyndi { 05.23.14 at 9:32 am }

This holiday is for our military service men and women who have and still do serve our country. They are to be respected and thanked for all they do. I remember as a child our brownie troop in Portsmouth Nh would always attend the Memorial service down by the water and across the way was the Naval Shipyard We would commentate the service of soldiers by tossing flowers into the ocean. The Brownie troop would always use Purple Lilacs which is the NH state flower.

14 Wendy { 05.29.10 at 9:26 am }

This weekend is to honor and remember our fallen Military Men and Women…..We should take a minute everyday to think of the Men and Women who are serving now…..and every chance that comes along, Thank The Marine, The Soldier, As well As the ones serving in the Navy and Air Force. I believe for these great men and women, past and present, one day, one weekend, is not great enough for the unselfish bravery each and everyone holds.
My Point is, this isn’t the time and place to express our feelings about unpaid holidays, Presidents day/MLKjr day, trust me I completely agree…But this weekend is for our fallen and the ones who stood next to them………
God Bless them all, and Juan, God Bless and Thank You…..As well as to, my Papaw, my Brothers and my Husband
Have a safe and wonderful weekend

15 Barbara { 05.26.10 at 4:27 pm }

We should also take a minute to think about the men and women who are now serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.

16 Give Thanks { 05.26.10 at 12:39 pm }

Folks, this weekend take time and effort to thank the veterans who served our country in the military. Shake there hand or say thanks for serving and take a moment of reflection of the ones who passed/died defending our freedoms,rights and our daily way of life.

17 Juan { 05.26.10 at 11:45 am }

I to served my country during the vietman war, although I did now see battle I still had to serve my country as all young men should. It was an honor and if I had to do it again, I would. God Bless this great nation of ours.

18 Jim { 05.26.10 at 10:58 am }

I wish congress would not enjoy helping us so much. I perfer to keep the holidays as they were intended, not so much as to please everyone. Keep the orginal days. Most of us do not get paid holidays anyways.

19 Jennifer { 05.26.10 at 10:07 am }

Umm Presidents day? I remember in the 70’s celebrating Lincoln’s Birthday and Washing’s Birthday in February. They were not combined into Presidents’ Day until MLKjr Day appeared in January.

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