Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area – Decoration Day Cemetery Quest
Decoration Day is a time-honored Appalachian tradition. Occurring annually in late spring or early summer, mountain people gather at family cemeteries to clean the graves of their loved ones. Leaves, brush, and old flowers are removed, and the grass is mowed in preparation for the decorating of graves with new, vibrant flowers and personal mementos that remind families of their loved ones. It is a way of celebrating the new life of spring while honoring loved ones who have passed away and keeping their memory alive in the community.
With the celebration of Decoration Day, families gather for a religious service with singing and sermons and then a delicious outdoor meal known locally as “Dinner on the Ground.” This meal is a picnic-like potluck enjoyed while storytellers share memories, kinfolk reunite, and children play. It is deeply rooted in the hearts of mountain people and the Appalachian culture.
Decoration Day may have evolved around the Civil War era and contributed to the designation of today’s Memorial Day. The tradition was likely brought to the area by early Scots-Irish settlers. One such holiday celebrated, Flowering Sunday, was a strong tradition with the ancient Welsh in Europe. Although Decoration Day is a traditional Southern celebration, some form of this event takes place in many countries all over the world.
To get started, pick up a cemetery quest booklet on May 4, beginning at 9:00 am (ET) at Bandy Creek Visitor Center, located at:
151 Stable Road, Oneida, TN 37841
The booklet may also be downloaded here. The Cemetery Quest can be completed in the order presented in the book or in any arrangement that is easiest for you.
This year the Decoration Day Cemetery Quest may be completed at any time throughout the month of May, but your quest must be completed by 4:00 PM (ET) on May 31.
While visiting the locations in the Cemetery Quest, take advantage of the opportunity to collect points toward the GO BIG 2024 Challenge. This year, you can earn 10 points for completing the quest! If you finish the Cemetery Quest before 4 PM (ET) on May 4, you will receive an extra 10 points! Help us keep these special places clean and litter-free; participants will earn 5 bonus points for collecting a bag of trash during their adventure.
However, do not take anything from the graves in the cemeteries.