Memorial Day is the kick off to summer and marks the end of the school year in many states. It is also the first three-day weekend since President’s Day for many. But what is this holiday really all about? How did it get started? And what does it mean?
Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day, and it started after the Civil War to honor those who lost their lives fighting for our country. While many towns and cities honored the Civil War dead by placing flowers on their graves, Waterloo, New York, was named as the official birthplace of the holiday in 1966. At one of the first national celebrations of Decoration Day, General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, and 5,000 people decorated the graves of 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers who lost their lives in the war.
Originally the day honored only those who made the ultimate sacrifice during the Civil War; but during World War I, the holiday evolved to cover all American military personnel who died in any war. The original Memorial Day date was May 30, but in 1968 Congress changed the official date to the last Monday in May. The name didn’t officially change from Decoration Day to Memorial Day until 1967; and because the day is designated as a federal holiday, the states had to decide whether or not they would participate in observing the day.
Celebrations include parades with veterans and visiting the graves of loved ones who have passed away. It is also customary to fly the American flag at half-staff until noon and then at full-staff until sunset.
Americans use this holiday to reflect on the sacrifices made by our military personnel, both past and present. Remember as you celebrate the holiday to thank the members of the United Stated Armed Services and their families for all they do for us. Have a safe and happy Memorial Day.