CULLMAN COUNTY, Ala. – Decoration Day, an annual observance still common throughout Cullman and North Alabama, has a history steeped in tradition, honor and homecoming.
With many family traditions falling to the wayside in the busy 21st century, Cullman is fortunate to have a stronghold on the significance and value of continuing to value its passed natives through Decoration Day.
Leanne West, who recently lost her treasured mother, Joyce Clark, in October, is tasked with reciting her mom’s poetry at her mother’s church’s Decoration Day service on Sunday. Speaking before an audience is a true test for West who prefers to be a hard worker behind the scenes. However, for her mom, West will face her fears and honor her mother’s legacy with the knowledge that Clark is still with her and always proud of her.
She shares, “Decoration Day has been a part of my life since I was a child. I remember going to Decoration Day ceremonies with my mother and grandmothers as a child.
“And now that my mom and dad have both passed away, it’s even more important to me to use that time set aside to honor their memory and to make sure that my kids and grandkids remember those who came before them. I will do my best to carry on the Decoration Day tradition in my family.”
Generally held in late spring and early summer, the tradition of Decoration Day dates to the 19th century in the south. The chosen Sunday for each cemetery will find family members adorning their loved ones’ gravesites with new flowers and reconnecting with other family.
In the past before many cemeteries had caretakers and trustees to provide upkeep, families would gather on the day before Decoration for a workday to labor over gravesites, removing weeds and trimming the grass.
The following Sunday would see a family reunion of sorts with close and extended family members enjoying a potluck picnic together on blankets spread out on the cemetery grounds. Many traveled from hundreds of miles away teaching their children of their ancestors and the importance and origins of their family traditions.
The summer season was preferred for Decoration Day in times past as the season was a less busy time on family farms. Between planting season and harvest, the late spring and early summer had more moderate temperatures and slower farm work.
Fresh flowers were commonly used for over a century to embellish the gravesites. In recent years, silk flowers and arrangements have become a popular option given their ability to withstand the elements for a longer period of time than fresh cut flowers.
The commitment to participate in Decoration Day may seem trivial to some; but, driving past any cemetery in Cullman, it’s a special sight to see the memory of those we cherish recognized.