Decoration Day is More Than a Southern Tradition

The month of May is one that signals many holidays, one of which relates to how we care for the cemetery plots of our family and friends. Particularly in the south it seems that family cemetery plots are cared for by relatives for generations by tradition. That is, of course, as opposed to “perpetual care” cemeteries that are owned by private entities and the cost to bury your loved ones there assures the lawn will always be mowed and debris removed from wind, rain, and other unpleasant weather conditions. Very often the final Saturday of the month, coinciding with Memorial Day weekend, is called Decoration Day for cemeteries in the southern United States.

It’s a family custom as to how often people visit cemeteries and the gravesides of their predecessors. Some families have benches placed nearby for sitting, and others go maybe once or twice a year. It is a personal choice and experience for each of us.

Taking young children along with you on visits to graveyards is an excellent teaching opportunity for them to learn the names and relationships of their ancestors. Seeing the names and dates of people, some of whose names they share, is a great teaching experience.

Also, they learn pride in caring for a site that is constructed with a headstone commemorating a life. It is something that we as adults take for granted, but in reality, it’s the first lesson in genealogy that we can share.

Children can be encouraged to bring a small rock from home to place on or near a gravesite to mark that they have visited. There are also traditions of placing coins on a gravestone; “leaving a penny means you visited the grave, leaving a nickel means you went to basic training together, leaving a dime means you served together, and leaving a quarter means you were there when a service person was killed,” according to Operation Horses and Heroes. There is something special and solemn about paying respects to a loved one’s graveside.

Depending on the rules of the particular cemetery or mausoleum, fresh or silk flowers can be placed with reminders to replace and refresh them when weather changes. Perpetual care cemeteries do this for your loved ones as part of their service, or they offer that for a small additional annual fee.

Small standing flags are often placed on the ground near graves for military veterans by local veterans organizations and groups. The group “Wreaths Across America” coordinates wreath-laying ceremonies at graves in various cities, including Bryan-College Station, to honor those who have served. You can sponsor wreaths by visiting their website. The next National Wreaths Across America Day is December 16, 2023.

Traditionally in the south, one Saturday in May is set aside for Decoration Day and cemetery cleanup. The day varies, depending on weather, but it often coincides with Memorial Day weekend, always the last weekend in May. Typically, families will visit their family plots on this weekend, whether or not they had loved ones in military service.

Locally you can check the city websites to see if a cleanup day is set. It would be a good occasion to begin the silk flower program, which directs placement of flowers for single occasions, or special occasions, twice per year, or seasonal placement four times a year. At Restever Memorial Park & Mausoleum, you can begin this service by calling Stacy at (979) 778-7878.

In College Station, the City of College Station “conducts a general grounds clean-up of the College Station Cemetery, the Memorial Cemetery of College Station, and the Aggie Field of Honor on the last week of each month.” There are specific rules that specify what kind of flowers can be placed near monuments and the period of time they can remain.

In Bryan there are numerous cemeteries. In addition to the Bryan City Cemetery and Oakwood Cemetery, there is the newly restored Grandview Cemetery (thanks to efforts led by Bryan City Councilman Prentiss Madison), Mount Calvary Cemetery and Boonville Cemetery, in addition to numerous smaller private cemeteries.

Throughout the month, weather depending, you’ll find people gathered to update and improve the gravesites with pride for the final resting places of loved ones. Many times family reunions are set when schools are out for the summer and it’s part of reunion to put new flowers out, whether fresh or silk, and to remember the family members who were once such an active part of reunions.

After the headstones and surrounding areas are exactly as you want them, you might consider taking a photograph or two and adding them to the website It is known as the world’s largest gravesite collection and it is free to join and search. No fees are required. You can search for your ancestors’ gravesites here. People from all over the country may reach out to you as well, distant relatives, and they will often leave a flower and a message in the guest book to let you know they visited.

Whatever your tradition, any time spent at the gravesides of your forefathers and loved ones is time well spent. Sharing your history and the rich stories that bring it to life is one of the best gifts you can leave for future generations to follow. Happy Decoration Day!


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