Why Are Poppies Used for Memorial Day? Here’s What They Mean
sunset, poppies, field @ Pixabay

Why Are Poppies Used for Memorial Day? Here’s What They Mean


Have you ever wondered why there are a lot of red poppies around veterans’ graves or during military remembrance ceremonies? Or have you seen them a lot during Memorial Day? Maybe you’ve also noticed them on the lapels of British Royal Family members like Prince Harry or Meghan Markle. The reason is that the poppy is a symbol of remembering dead soldiers, which is a practice that came out of World War I. But there’s more to the poppy’s history than just WWI and remembering the dead.

Related: 26 Red, White & Blue Desserts To Celebrate Memorial Day in Patriotic Style

Poppy Flower Meaning

In short, poppy flowers are resilient (and are actually weeds) that grow in the wild around the world. They’re used during Memorial Day and other memorial ceremonies for soldiers that have died in war and often the selling of poppies benefits veterans’ organizations. But why? And what do poppies mean? Where did this history between poppies and the dead come from? Read on to find out more.

What Does the Poppy Symbolize?

Poppies have symbolized many things throughout history, including sleep, death, peace and rebirth. And in Greek mythology, poppies were the sacred symbols of different goddesses and characters, such as Demeter, Hypnos, Nix and Thanatos. Their symbolism is also why Dorothy and her friends fall asleep in a field of poppies in The Wizard of Oz—because of their close ties to sleep.

Again, poppy flowers are weeds, technically, so it’s not uncommon to find them in fields out in the wild. But that’s also why they symbolize rebirth and resilience; they don’t die quickly and pretty much grow wherever.

Related: These 59 Stores That Are Open on Memorial Day 2023

Poppy Flowers and Memorial Day

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Poppies’ ability to grow in the wild is the reason why poppy flowers are also a significant symbol of those that have died in war and on Memorial Day, specifically. As History.com reported, during World War I—which took place between 1914 and 1918—most of the fighting took place in fields and in the wilderness across Europe, with 8.5 million soldiers dying in the process. However, poppies would still grow in these fields despite the mayhem and death that had occurred there.

So it only makes sense that when Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae saw a bunch of poppies not long after the Second Battle of Ypres in 1915, he was inspired to write one of the most well-known wartime poems ever. McCrae wrote “In Flanders Field”—poppies are also known as the Flander poppy—a short, three-stanza poem that gives a stark look at death and war.

In the poem, “In Flanders Field,” McCrae gives the visual of poppies growing above and between makeshift graves and writes about how “We are the Dead” who were only just alive that morning. The last stanza also states why memorializing the dead from war is important.

“If ye break faith with us who die/We shall not sleep, though poppies grow/In Flanders fields”

The poem is still used at many memorial ceremonies and is one of the most well-known works of art that came out of WWI.

After WWI, with poppies becoming such a strong symbol associated with honoring deceased soldiers, there was actually a shortage in 1924. This led to the creation of artificial poppies that we often see today during Memorial Day ceremonies or remembrance memorials for those that have died during war.

Related: 90 Memorial Day Weekend Instagram Captions to Kick Off Summer and Honor Those Who Paid the Ultimate Sacrifice

Poppy Color Meanings

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Of course, poppies aren’t just for memorializing soldiers; poppies are a symbol of remembrance in many cultures and instances. The red version of the poppy is what is most commonly used for this meaning (of memorial and remembrance of soldiers). But poppies come in many different colors, and all have different meanings.

  • Pink poppies are connected to kindness, sympathy and platonic love.
  • Orange poppies stand for health and resilience.
  • Yellow in poppies can stand for hope and positivity in regard to someone dying.
  • White poppies are similar to many symbols that use white; it stands for purity, virtue and is often associated with religion and making it to heaven.

Poppy Flower Spiritual Meaning

As mentioned before, the poppy flower means so many things to so many different religions, people and cultures. We already mentioned Greek mythology, but poppies also show up in Egyptian culture, with poppies being associated with the god of death and agriculture, Osiris.

Poppies also “represent the loyalty and faith between lovers” in Chinese lore. You can also find poppies spread across worldwide folklore and other legends. They also show up in witchcraft uses because poppies have a “narcotic” property—also linked to why they symbolize sleep and death—and were used in different spells, charms and in the making of opium. The opium poppy plant’s seeds can produce a milky substance that was then used in opium for different drugs.

Related: 20 Enlightening Spiritual Books for When You’re Searching for Hope and Strength

Poppy Tattoo Meaning

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With everything we’ve reported here, it makes sense that some people would want to use poppies in their tattoos. Aside from being a quaint, pretty flower, there are more than just aesthetic reasons people get poppy tattoos.

Poppies tattooed on the body can of course be a symbol to remember veterans or soldiers that have died, especially if that person was a close member of your family. Poppy tattoos can also be a way to pay respects and honor anyone that has died. 

But on women, poppy tattoos have come to symbolize independence, strength, a free spirit and a sense of being carefree. And because of poppies’ use in medicine and spirituality, some people get poppy tattoos to commemorate fertility, prosperity and eternal beauty or peace. 

Next up, find out 11 ways to help veterans, soldiers and their families this Memorial Day.

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