If your family is like mine, this year when you gather around the Thanksgiving feast and/or football marathon, someone will be missing. Since 1996, I've said good-bye to many beloved family members, and that means noted absences at family gatherings. It also links remembrance with the notion of giving thanks for the bright blessings I enjoy because of the past.
Every culture has its way of remembering the dead and paying tribute to their memory. We show our thanks to brave soldiers who gave their lives by attending Memorial Day services, by bowing our heads at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, by wearing a red poppy. (Do you know about the poppy?)
The year 1868 marked the official beginning of Memorial Day when, on May 5, General Order No. 11 designated "the 30th day of May, 1868 ... for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion ... "
In the deep south, some states celebrated Confederate Memorial Day on April 26, the anniversary of General Joseph Johnston's final surrender to Union General Sherman. North and South Carolina chose May 10, Stonewall Jackson's birthday. Virginia chose June 3,the birthday of Jefferson Davis. Last year on June 1 (when I was doing research for Daughter of the Regiment, my spring 2015 Civil War novel), I visited the Confederate Cemetery in Higginsville, MO just after a Memorial Day observance. Roses had just been placed on the large monument and flags placed at every veteran's grave.
In the late 19th century, people remembered their loved ones by wearing memorial jewelry--a photograph framed in a tiny gold brooch or locket or an artistic arrangement of a loved one's hair. Note the tiny hearts that accent the brooch on the right. I've never actually worn it, but I cherish it. Hair wreaths weren't always about the dead, by the way. The one pictured on the left is displayed at the Patee House in St. Joseph, Missouri, and it's about friendship--"the hair 125 friends" to be exact. And the names are listed. I have an 1872 "how to" book about this art, and the skill required to get a good result astonishes me.
May Thanksgiving find us all giving thanks for those who have gone before--those who left us the bright blessings of love, freedom, and faith.
Happy giving thanks to you and yours from me and mine!
Do you have a family tradition that centers on remembering those who've gone before? Which ancestor are you most thankful for?
National best-selling, award-winning novelist Stephanie Grace Whitson is the author of over two dozen novels and two works of non-fiction. She received her MA in history in 2012 and is a frequent guest speaker/lecturer on a variety of historical and inspirational topics for civic organizations, libraries, quilt guilds, and church groups. Her husband and blended family, her church, historical research, antique quilts, and Kitty--her motorcycle--all rank high on her list of "favorite things." Learn more at http://www.stephaniewhitson.com
Nice post, Stephanie! My grandmother always put flowers of the graves of her husband and parents on "Decoration Day," Memorial Day. On Easton, PA"s annual Heritage Day, my husband, son, and I portray my ancestor, Col. Peter Kichline, and his family. He was the leader of the county militia, leading his men in the Battle of Brooklyn in August, 1776. He lost a large percentage of his men, but his actions (among those of others) helped General Washington and his men escape successfully or the Revolution might have ended right then and there. I'm especially proud of the faith he had throughout his life, in his God. And by the way, I have a Victorian hair pin that I picked up many years ago at a flea market, minus the hair! It's from the 1880s.ReplyDelete
What a wonderful family heritage, Rebecca. I don't know very much about my ancestors, so I especially appreciate families who do. I'd love to see you "in uniform" ;-). Have you read David McCullough's book titled 1776? You'd love it.
Enjoyed your post and recently saw all the poppies in London around Westminster Abbey (I think) that represented all the UK deaths in WW I. My family has moved so much and from so many countries, I don't know a memorial tradition. I do know a Christmas tradition that we do- Christmas Crackers at our Christmas dinner table. sm wileygreen1(at)yahoo(dot)comReplyDelete
Christmas Crackers sounds like a great tradition ... including a recipe you can pass on. Love that. I heard about the poppies on NPR ... thanks for the reminder to look into that.Delete
Thank you for a lovely post! My favorite aunt loved setting a pretty table when loved ones came and loved to throw little parties and give little gifts. I always have my table set and love to give little gifts, just like her.ReplyDelete
mauback55 at gmail dot com
What a great give your aunt gave you ... that's a lovely tradition to replicate.Delete
I find many of the Victorian traditions for keeping the memories of lost loved ones alive to be fascinating. Perhaps because they dealt with loss so often, they found solace in creating their remembrances. I've seen examples of hair art in museums. While such a practice strikes many today as odd, I think the creations are beautiful tributes to those who were loved and lost.ReplyDelete
Like you, Keli, the tradition of "hair art" truly fascinates me. One year when I visited a mansion in St. Louis during October they were doing demonstrations that showed how it was done. Amazing.Delete