Memorial Day weekend is something most Americans look forward to as a signal that Summer is officially here. We dust off our grills, grab some extra cold drinks, and invite family and friends over for an afternoon of food and relaxation. Most of us get to enjoy this holiday without much thought, but for some, Memorial Day is a painful and solemn reminder of loved ones who died while fighting for our freedom.

Memorial Day was first recognized after the Civil War when the widows and mothers of the fallen soldiers would come together one day in late Spring and bring flowers to decorate their loved ones’ graves. In May 1868, Arlington National Cemetery held its first official ceremony to honor the fallen soldiers of the Civil War.

After World War I, the day of remembrance was modified to include soldiers who had died in all American wars. The tradition of wearing a red poppy pin originated in Great Britain and has since been adopted by American veteran groups. This symbolized the red poppies that grew in the fields where many soldiers died. The poppy pin tradition was inspired by the poem In Flanders Fields by John McCrae written in 1915. When Moina Michael first read this poem in 1918, she was so moved to keep the poppy tradition alive that she made it her life’s work to never forget the soldiers who had died serving our country. She used the poppy as the official symbol in her campaign to remember the fallen soldiers. In 1971, Memorial Day became an official holiday.

It is hard to pinpoint exactly how many soldiers have died in American wars since the Civil War, partly because record keeping was not as precise in the 1800s, but many officials guess that the number ranges from 600,000 to 1.5 million men and women who have given their lives for our freedom and security.

As Memorial Day approaches and you are getting ready for a day with family and friends, we encourage you to remember those who sacrificed their lives for our freedom. Take a moment to reflect on the families who lost a loved one, and pause in the middle of the day to honor those who bravely gave their lives for our country.

Sour Cream Poppy Seed Pound Cake by Rosalie Miliziano