Southern tradition called "Decoration Day" predates Memorial Day

May 22, 2018

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (OSBORNE)  --  With Memorial Day fast approaching you might be interested to learn that some historians believe the annual remembrance for veterans evolved out of a much older southern tradition called Decoration Day.

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Unlike Memorial Day, there’s no fixed date for Decoration Day. Each cemetery where it’s practiced chooses its own date, usually in late spring or early summer.

The late historian Alan Jabbor researched Decoration Day as practiced in the South. He spoke at the Library of Congress about how the events typical unfold.

“During the early part of the decoration people dress the graves, and also socialize and reflect on loved ones buried there. Perhaps there’s a prayer. Then Gospel Singing begins, and last a preacher or speaker steps forward.”

Jabbor says Decoration Day usually concludes with a pot luck dinner on the grounds.

One unique practice is leaving mementos at the graves.

“Some graves also display personal objects meaningful to the deceased: A favorite coffee mug, a Scotch Whiskey bottle, or a prized collection of tea pots and pitchers.”

In 2012, Jason Isbell released a song he wrote about his family that references this southern tradition. A dark rememberance of his family's violent past, the lyrics include: 

It's Decoration Day
And I got family in Mobile Bay
And they ain't never seen my Daddy's grave
But that don't bother me, it ain't marked anyway

If you'd like to learn more about Decoration Day, here are links to some related online resources: