Memorial Day Revisited

Posted on May 21, 2015 by

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Memorial Day is an American holiday observed on the last Monday of May. It honors men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military.

Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day. It originated in the years following of the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971.

Many Americans observe Memorial Day by visiting cemeteries or memorials, holding family gatherings, and walking in parades. It unofficially marks the beginning of summer.

The Civil War took more lives than any other conflict in U.S. history, requiring the founding of the country’s first national cemeteries. By the time the late 1860s hit, Americans in different towns and cities had begun holding springtime tributes to these many fallen soldiers, and they decorated their graves with flowers and said prayers.

Each year on Memorial Day, a national moment of remembrance takes place at 3:00 p.m. local time.  It is unsure where exactly this tradition came from. A lot of different communities may have independently started the memorial gatherings.

In 1966, the federal government declared Waterloo, New York, the official birthplace of Memorial Day.  Waterloo had first celebrated the day on 5 May 1866. It was chosen because it hosted an annual community event. That day, businesses closed, and residents decorated the graves of soldiers with flowers and flags.

Memorial Day, as Decoration Day slowly came to be known, first honored only those lost while fighting in the Civil War. During World War I, the United States found itself in yet another major conflict, and the holiday then evolved to honor American military personnel who died in all wars.

For decades, Memorial Day still was to be observed on May 30. In 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. It established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May in order to create a three day weekend for federal employees. The change went into effect in 1971. The same law also declared Memorial Day a federal holiday.

Cities and towns across the United States host Memorial Day parades each year. They often incorporate military personnel and members of veterans’ organizations. Some of the largest parades take place in Chicago, New York, and Washington, D.C.

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Posted in: Alyssa Brandt