Nothing except perhaps the America flag symbolizes Memorial Day more than the blood-red poppy, but recently the bright red carnation is finding its special place in Memorial Day symbolism as well.

“In Flanders fields the poppies blow, between the crosses, row on row” - Col. John McCrae, 1915.



Nothing except perhaps the America flag symbolizes Memorial Day more than the blood-red poppy, but recently the bright red carnation is finding its special place in Memorial Day symbolism as well.

Col. John McCrae, a Canadian soldier of World War I, wrote a poem in 1915 titled “In Flanders Fields” in which he described poppies as symbols of the fallen. That description stands the test of time and is often quoted.

His famous poem describes the bright red flowers that bloomed between the rows of white crosses that marked the graves of the war dead in Belgium. Those vivid reddish-orange flowers – poppies – were soon known throughout the Allied world as the “flower of the fallen,” sometimes “the flower of remembrance.”

Personally, although I have no live poppies in my yard like my mother used to have in her garden, I will never forget the reverent and simple pleasure of picking them for “Decoration Day.”

I would love to find poppies to take to cemeteries on this Memorial Day weekend, but they are not readily available here.

Luckily, I found an alternative flower choice while reading a Memorial Day blog by Sylvia M. on www.usmemorialday.org. The red carnation is being used now when poppies are not obtainable.

Carnations are easy to find and just as emblematic.

The idea: Use fresh, red carnations, an inexpensive and available option, to decorate the graves of fallen soldiers and other loved ones.

Here is what Sylvia wrote about her idea and how she intends to use the carnations:

“This weekend I am going to do something different. I am going to buy some carnations each day and go to one of the nearby cemeteries and walk through the sections for soldiers. When I find a grave that has no flowers, I’ll leave one and say a prayer for the family of that person, who for some reason could not bring their soldier flowers. I will pray for our country and all who serve or have served. For their families, who also serve by losing precious days, weeks and months spent with their loved ones who are off serving, preserving peace and the freedom we have in this country. I’ll pray for the families who paid the ultimate price, whose loved ones died or were taken captive and never returned. I’ll pray for anyone who may still be held in captivity and thinks perhaps they are forgotten. I do not forget.”

Poppies or carnations?

It doesn’t really matter.

What is important is why this tradition endures.

One can almost see the poppies blooming between the rows of white crosses on Flanders Field and hear the voices of the fallen as described in the final lines of Col. McRae’s World War I poem:



“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.”