We celebrate Memorial Day this weekend, marking the unofficial start of summer. Many of us will enjoy a long weekend with family barbecues and outdoor activities, or maybe a camping trip. Because I am a history lover, I enjoy reading about the origins of holidays, and about how celebrations have changed over time. So, in today’s blog, I’ll share a little of what I have learned about Memorial Day.
According to the US Department of Veteran’s Affairs website, Memorial Day began as a way to decorate the graves of Civil War veterans, "Three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the head of an organization of Union veterans — the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) — established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers." May 30th was chosen as the day to observe it. Local tributes to Civil War dead had already been held in various places around the country, partly due to concern over the neglected state of soldiers’ graves.
By the end of the 19th century, the US Army and Navy, as well many States were observing Memorial Day on May 30th. After World War I, it was decided to honor those who died in all US wars on Memorial Day, but it was not until 1971 that Congress declared it a national holiday and moved the official celebration to the last Monday in May.
Some things have not changed since the first celebration. For example, at Arlington National Cemetery all graves are still decorated with small US flags and about 5,000 people go to the cemetery in observance of the holiday (as well as cemeteries around the country).
Did you know that at 3:00 pm (local time) across the country, the National Moment of Remembrance is observed? In December 2000, the US Congress passed “The National Moment of Remembrance Act,” which President Clinton signed.
Of course, there are parades across the US to pay tribute to the fallen, but the largest parade of all is in Washington DC, held on Constitution Avenue, and usually draws more than 250,000 attendees. To read more about the parade, visit the American Veterans Center’s National Memorial Day Parade page. Don’t worry, you don’t need to be in Washington DC to see it, it’s streamed live on YouTube on Monday, May 28, 2018 at 11:00 AM Pacific.