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National Poppy Day: Why the flower matters

National Poppy Day is May 26, a time to reflect on how this bright red flower is used to honor the sacrifices made by soldiers while protecting our freedoms. Poppies are often presented on graves in the form of wreaths since their circular shape represents eternity, continuity, and the circle of life. 

All through Memorial Day weekend,  you will likely see volunteers from the American Legion Auxiliary in your town distributing poppy pins as well.

These pins are often handmade by veterans as part of their therapeutic rehabilitation and distributed across the country in exchange for donations that “benefit veterans, service members, and their families in local communities,” says American Legion Auxiliary spokesperson Jennifer Donovan. The donations are not mandatory but a nice thing to do. It is also a nice tradition to share and participate in with your children. 

In the 1920s, the American Legion adopted the poppy as its memorial flower and then brought the concept to Congress to designate the Friday before Memorial Day as National Poppy Day. 

The tradition started following World War 1 after poppies bloomed on the battlefields in France and Belgium.

“One reason the corn poppies bloomed so riotously was that the bombs both disturbed the soil and released a lot of nitrogen – both factors that poppies love,” notes horticultural expert Julie Sakellariadis. But the science wasn’t known at that time. Instead, people projected other meanings to this occurrence then and before.

Going back to the destruction of the Napoleonic wars of the early 19th century, red poppies also grew around the bodies of the fallen soldiers on what seemed like a barren land. It was a majestic sight that triggered many emotions. Poppies then started to become an image of hope for peace with the unspoken message that sacrifice was noble for the greater good.


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