Memorial Day is often considered the official start of summer. Most people are off work, it’s warm and (hopefully) sunny, and barbeques and other outdoor activities are the place to be. But Memorial Day isn’t really about these things and too often I think the meaning gets lost in all of the fun. I’d like to take this opportunity to share a little of the history of Memorial Day and ways to honor those who died for our freedom.

Memorial Day originated after the Civil War in 1866 in the South and in 1868 in the North to honor the soldiers who lost their lives during the war. The North and South kept separate holidays until after World War I, when the holiday became an opportunity to honor all Americans who gave their lives during any war, rather than just focusing on the Civil War. Memorial Day was officially designated as a federal holiday held on the last Monday in May in 1971.

Since its inception, Memorial Day has been commemorated in a number of ways. One of the oldest traditions is to decorate the graves of soldiers. This tradition harkens back to the period after the Civil War and continues today. Poppies are often used as decoration around Memorial Day as a symbol of remembrance. This was inspired by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae’s poem In Flanders Fields, which he wrote during World War I and inspired a poem in response by Moina Michael, who wore and sold poppies to benefit servicemen in need. Since 2000, the National Moment of Remembrance has been held at 3 pm on Memorial Day, which is a time to stop and remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

There are also a number of concerts, parades, and sporting events held on or around Memorial Day, including golf tournaments, NASCAR races, and the Indianapolis 500. Then there are the barbeques. And the desserts that must accompany any good barbeque. And wine. Basically, there are plenty of options to have a good time and gorge yourself.

Desserts at a Memorial Day party need to be able to handle the heat, since there’s a decent chance they’ll be outside a good part of the day. I really don’t recommend having a cake, unless it is kept in the shade and there aren’t a ton of intricate buttercream decorations. Why? Frosting made with butter melts in the heat. Ice cream isn’t a great idea, either, unless you have a freezer nearby. I really love to do fruit desserts around Memorial Day because so many delicious fruits are in season at that time. It’s easy to do a simple, light dessert that tastes great with fresh fruit and whipped cream, whether it’s by itself or in a pie or tart shell.

Wine options abound at Memorial Day celebrations as well. I love a nice, cold white like pinot grigio or Semillon. However, you can also do a light red if you prefer, like a Lambrusco or gamay.

No matter how you choose to celebrate Memorial Day, please take a moment to honor those who gave their lives for our freedom. Without their bravery and sacrifice, we wouldn’t have the opportunity to celebrate with barbeques, dessert, and wine.

In Flanders Fields
By John McCrae, May 1915

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.

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