In the midst of all the beach trips, barbecuing, and enjoying a three day weekend, it can be easy to forget what Memorial Day is actually all about. Observed on the last Monday of May (Memorial Day 2018 falls on Monday, May 28), the federal holiday honors people who have died while serving in the U.S. military. To honor this holiday, we answer some general questions about the history of this Federal Holiday and the answers are fascinating.
Was it always called Memorial Day?
No. It was originally called Decoration Day from the early tradition of decorating graves with flowers, wreaths, and flags. By the late 1860s, many Americans had begun hosting tributes to the war’s fallen soldiers by decorating their graves and with flowers and flags. It gradually came to be known as Memorial Day over the years.
Is this date an anniversary date of a battle?
Many people assume that the date we celebrate Memorial Day must be the anniversary date of a battle since it honors soldiers who have died while serving in the U.S. military. But that is an incorrect assumption. This date was chosen by John A. Logan, a Union General because it wasn’t the anniversary of a particular battle. This day was originally meant to honor those lost in the Civil War but in the aftermath of World War I, the holiday evolved to commemorate fallen military personnel in all wars.
Where is the birthplace of Memorial Day?
Many places in the U.S. claim to be the first to celebrate Memorial Day, but there’s only one small town officially identified as the birthplace. In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed legislation stating that Waterloo, New York, is the originator of Memorial Day in the U.S. The town first observed a day to remember fallen soldiers on May 5, 1866.
As you gather with friends and family this weekend, remember all of the soldiers that have paid the ultimate price for our freedom in this country. Enjoy the many parades that commemorate this holiday but remember the history behind the celebration. Have a great long weekend.
“We do not know one promise these men made, one pledge they gave, one word they spoke; but we do know they summed up and perfected, by one supreme act, the highest virtues of men and citizens. For love of country, they accepted death, and thus resolved all doubts, and made immortal their patriotism and their virtue.” – James A. Garfield
May 30, 1868, Arlington National Cemetery