An important tradition symbolic of the vital place of family in Appalachian life is Decoration Day, usually held on a Sunday in June. Families gather at rural churches and cemeteries to honor the memory of deceased family members. A few days earlier, neighbors and kin gather to mow the cemetery grass, clean the graves, and prepare flowers. Homes are opened to accommodate family members returning from far and wide, communal meals are prepared, and folks gather to make a little music. On Decoration Day, special preaching and church singing pay homage to the dead and bring families and communities closer together. The service is followed by “dinner on the grounds,” with large quantities of food cooked by local community members. Graves are decorated with flowers, visited, and stories told of humor, love, and remembrance about family members buried there.
Timing of the event reflects Appalachia’s agrarian heritage. Mid-June was a time when crops were planted and growing, but long before harvest, mountain weather allowed for outdoor activity and made travel easier, and flowers were in bloom for decorating graves. It was a betwixt and between time when mountain folk could reflect on their shared family and community heritage. Decoration Day is also a ritual for healing rifts and wounds among living family members. For all families, Decoration Day is a time and place for reconnecting kinship networks and remembering core family values. The tradition of Decoration Day in Appalachia is an old one, but it is a living tradition.
Smithsonian Center for Folklife & Cultural Heritage
Decoration+Day appalachia appalachian+culture appalachian+history history+of+appalachia