History of Memorial Day

Celebrated on the last Monday in May, Memorial Day is a day meant for Americans to remember the soldiers who died fighting for their country.The history of this holiday is pretty interesting, and no one can be sure of the exact date or place it was first observed.

Remembering the soldiers who died fighting for the country

The Origins of Memorial Day

Memorial Day was first celebrated in the period following the Civil War. Back in the 1860s, groups of people visited the graveyards of the fallen soldiers and decorated them with flowers in remembrance of their sacrifice. As the Civil War claimed more than 600,000 lives and left dead soldiers in nearly every region, national cemeteries came into being to bury the dead of both sides. Quite naturally, the practice of decorating the graves in the national cemeteries was not an isolated one, and many regions claim to be the first to have witnessed the practice. However, the federal government declares Waterloo, NY, to be the official birthplace of Memorial Day as it held an annual community event to decorate the graves of soldiers with flags and flowers on the 5th of May, and businesses closed for the day.

From Decoration Day to Memorial Day

General John Logan, in 1862, called for a nationwide observance of “Decoration Day”, a day dedicated to decorating the graves of the fallen soldiers. He chose the 30th of May for this occasion as it was not the anniversary of any war or battle. Over the years, more and more states began to hold commemorative events on this day and to recognize it as a state holiday. However, many Southern states kept separate days for honouring their dead. With the passing of time, Decoration Day began to be known as Memorial Day.

The Changing Face of Memorial Day

With the First World War, the nature of Memorial Day celebrations was changed. It became a day to honor all the soldiers that died fighting for their country, irrespective of which war they fought in. Then in 1968, Memorial Day was recognized as a federal holiday and its date was changed to the last Monday in May to create a three-day weekend for federal employees.

Decorating the graves of fallen soldiers

The National Moment of Remembrance on Memorial Day

With time, people began to forget the significance of Memorial Day. The three day weekend allowed people to plan family trips and short vacations, and consequently shifted the focus of Memorial Day. To prevent the holiday from losing its original purpose, the “National Moment of Remembrance Act” was passed in 2000. According to this Act, Americans are encouraged to pause from their work wherever they are at 3pm local time on Memorial Day and to observe a moment of silence in remembrance of the service of the dead soldiers to their country.

Memorial Day Celebrations Today

Today, Memorial Day is celebrated in many different ways, and means different things to different people. Many regions hold parades that are attended by a large number of civilians. Members of the armed forces, as well as young Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts decorate the graves of fallen soldiers with flowers and flags. Congregations gather to remember and speak of the departed soldiers. Yet for many others, Memorial Day is a day to remember all the loved ones that have died, whether or not they served the country. The three-day weekend also marks the beginning of summer, and is often marked by parties and barbeques across the nation.

Find out how you can celebrate Memorial Day with your kids!

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