Memorial Day is an American holiday observed on the last Monday in May.
It’s a day to honor and acknowledge the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. Memorial Day became an official holiday in 1971.
How Memorial Day began
Honoring heroes and decorating graves with flowers has been going on for thousands of years. But our modern Memorial Day has its roots in the aftermath of the American Civil War.
The American Civil War was a conflict between the northern and southern states. The Confederate soldiers fought on behalf of the southern states, and the Union soldiers fought for the northern states.
The war lasted from 1861 to 1865. America had just started to become its own country following the Revolution. Less than 100 years later, the Civil War started.
After the war ended, newspapers in the northern States reported memorial ceremonies being held for soldiers in Columbus, Georgia, and other cities in the south in 1866.
Although there had been Civil War cemetery dedications the year before, the 1866 events were meant to be held annually to remember the brave soldiers.
Many southern participants added flowers to the final resting places of not only their fallen Confederate soldiers but also the Union soldiers who were buried alongside them.
Reuniting a country divided
When word reached General John A. Logan, a Union commander during the war, he encouraged the people of the northern states to do the same by decorating the graves of the Confederate soldiers buried in the north.
By following the lead of people in the southern states to set aside differences and respect all the people who had fought and died during the war, the country began to heal.
May 30th of 1868 was the official beginning of Decoration Day across the nation.
Many states in the south hold a Confederate Memorial Day during the spring. The dates vary among the states and coincide with dates of particular battles that were fought in these areas.
On a national level, Decoration Day was expanded to honor all fallen US service members after World War I ended.
In 1968, the United States Congress passed a law, which went into effect in May of 1971. They changed the name from Decoration Day to Memorial Day. The date of observance became the last Monday in May. It also made Memorial Day a federal holiday.
Memorial Days Around the World
Many countries around the world have similar observances.
The United Kingdom and Canada observe Remembrance Day in honor of those who perished in the line of duty. This is held on November 11, which was the official date that World War I ended.
Ireland holds the National Day of Commemoration in July. They honor the people who fought for their independence in making Ireland a country under its own rule.
South Korea holds a Memorial Day on June 6, honoring those who served during the Korean War.
New Zealand and Australia observe Anzac Day on April 25th. This day honors the people who served during the Gallipoli Campaign, their first engagement in World War I. ANZAC is an acronym for the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.
The Practice of Decorating Graves
The roots of this tradition extend far back in time. The ancient Greeks and Romans had annual days of remembrance for loved ones, including soldiers. They would decorate the gravesites and have festivals and feasts in their honor.
The earliest known public tribute to soldiers who had perished during a war was in 431 BC. An Athenian general and statesman, Pericles gave a speech where he praised the valor, and sacrifice, of those who fought in the Peloponnesian War.
Memorial Day Traditions in the United States
American flags are lowered halfway down the flagpole, called half-mast, as a show of respect, remembrance, and a salute to the fallen soldiers.
Official ceremonies are also held at the nation’s war cemeteries, like Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia and Gettysburg National Cemetery in Pennsylvania.
There are also many large parades in cities all over the country.
Washington DC holds the National Memorial Day parade with marching bands, floats, and hundreds of veterans.
New York, NY has Fleet Week, which begins prior to Memorial Day and has been held every year since 1984. It celebrates the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. There is a parade of ships, and tours of the ships that these branches of the military use.
Unofficially, the 3-day weekend marks the beginning of the summer season in America. Families and friends get together for picnics and bar-b-ques, celebrating the start of summer with grilling and good company.
Join us on this Memorial Day as we remember those who have served our country bravely..