While the holiday has come to be known as the unofficial start to summer and barbecue season, let us not forget its roots and the reverence it deserves.
It Was Once Known By Another Name
Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day, which came from the early tradition of decorating the graves of fallen Civil War soldiers with flowers and flags.
Decoration Day was first widely observed on May 30, 1868 to commemorate those who lost their lives in the Civil War by proclamation of General John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic (an organization of former soldiers and sailors). Logan declared: “Americans should lay flowers and decorate the graves of the war dead whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.”
It Was Expanded During WW I
When the US entered World War I, the ‘Decoration Day’ tradition was expanded to include American soldiers and sailors killed in all wars.
Disagreement Over Its Original Date
It is largely thought that Logan chose May 30 because it was a rare day that didn’t fall on the anniversary of a Civil War battle; some historians, however, believe the date was chosen to ensure that flowers would be in full bloom across the country.
New York: First To Designate It A Legal Holiday
In 1873, New York was the first state to designate Memorial Day as a legal holiday. By the late 19th century, many more cities started observing the day, with several other states declaring it a legal holiday.
Congress Weighs In
In 1971, while the US was deeply involved in the Vietnam War, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, establishing that Memorial Day was a federal holiday to be observed on the last Monday of May.
The National Ceremony
Each year, Memorial Day is commemorated at Arlington National Cemetery, during which a small American flag is placed on each grave. Traditionally, the President or Vice President also lays a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier. It is estimated that about 5,000 people attend the ceremony each year.
National Reverence for the Day
· The American flag should be hung at half-staff until noon on Memorial Day, and then raised to the top of the staff.
· Congress passed legislation in 2000 for which all Americans are encouraged to pause for a National Moment of Remembrance at 3:00 PM local time.