Memorial Day is observed in America on the last Monday of May, and it is a day to commemorate and remember the men and women who lost their lives while in service for the US military. It is a federal holiday, and as such, businesses and schools are closed, and most people have the day off work.
It officially became a federal holiday in 1971. Traditionally, people will visit cemeteries and memorials for American soldiers, and there are several parades around the country.
History of Memorial Day
It is unclear where Memorial Day was first observed, but it was created after the end of the Civil War, in 1865. At the time, the American Civil War was the event that had taken the most lives in U.S. history, it is estimated that around 620,000 soldiers died. Following the war, in the late 1860s, people began organizing tributes to the lost soldiers by decorating the graves of soldiers on both sides of the conflict.
The day was not originally called Memorial Day but was known as Decoration Day. On May 5th, 1868, General John A. Logan, alongside a group of Northern Civil War Veterans, pushed for a national day of remembrance for the lost soldiers of the conflict. He chose the 30th of May for this purpose, proclaiming that people should show respect by decorating the graves of the dead, so it was called Decoration Day. The 30th of May was chosen to honor this day, as it was a date on which flowers would likely be in bloom across the whole country.
The first time that this day was celebrated, a total of 5,000 participants decorated the graves of 20,000 soldiers.
All Northern States followed this tradition, and by 1890 it was a state holiday in those states. However, Southern States did not acknowledge Decoration Day until after World War I, when the day became a day of remembrance for all of those who sacrificed their lives for the country in conflicts, and not just those fallen during the Civil War.
While it is unknown where Memorial Day started, several independent communities and states likely put up their own memorials. However, records show that the earliest commemoration of the fallen soldiers was held by recently freed slaves.
Officially, Waterloo, New York is known as “The Birthplace of Memorial Day” as it was there that the first annual, wide event was held on May 5th, 1966.
How Decoration Day became Memorial Day
In 1968 the Uniform Monday Holiday Act was passed by Congress. Memorial Day went from being celebrated on the 30th of May to being celebrated on the last Monday of May, this gave American workers a three-day weekend. Many people now refer to the end of May as the Memorial Day Weekend, this long weekend was made official in 1971 when Memorial Day was turned into a federal holiday.
How Memorial Day is celebrated
A solemn occasion
Memorial Day is a solemn occasion, people commemorate this day by visiting cemeteries and memorials and laying wreaths and American flags on the graves of soldiers. Most also wear a Red Poppy, which gained meaning as a symbol of remembrance by the World War I poem “In Flanders Fields”. During Memorial Day, all American flags must be flown at half mast until noon, after which they should be raised until sunset.
In December of 2000 the National Moment of Remembrance was announced, encouraging Americans to observe a moment of respect and silence at 3 p.m. on Memorial Day in honor of all who lost their lives in battle.
Memorial day is also a day of celebration, as this day usually announces the arrival of Summer, people also take the long weekend to travel, throw parties and enjoy barbecues with friends and family.
The biggest Memorial Day parade in the country takes place in Washington DC where over 200,000 Americans turn up to watch the event. Notable parades also take place in Chicago and Little Neck-Douglaston (NY), but all over America there will be parades as Americans gather to watch, remember, and celebrate.