Although Memorial Day has come to mark the unofficial start of the summer vacation season, it has a much more important meaning. So before you head off for your long weekend of grilling, picnics, or hanging out at the beach (or as our friends in Pennsylvania say, “the shore”), we’d like to share a little of the history behind the day.
The History of Memorial Day
Memorial Day observances began after the American Civil War. In a still-divided nation, separate traditions began in the North and South for honoring Union and Confederate soldiers killed in battle by decorating their graves with flowers. The Southern observance began in 1866, and by 1868, the northern commemoration had begun and was called “Decoration Day.” It was observed for the first time that year on Saturday, May 30; the date was chosen as an optimal date for flowers to be in bloom.
By the 20th century, competing Union and Confederate holiday traditions, celebrated on different days, had merged, and the preferred name for the holiday gradually changed from Decoration Day to Memorial Day. Memorial Day did not become the common name until after World War II, and was not declared the official name by Federal law until 1967.
Traditional Observances and How Memorial Day Has Changed
Many people recognize Memorial Day by visiting cemeteries and memorials to honor those who have died in military service. Volunteers often place an American flag on each grave in national cemeteries. On Memorial Day, the flag is raised to the top of the staff and then solemnly lowered to the half-staff position, where it remains until noon. It is then raised to full-staff for the remainder of the day. The half-staff position honors the more than one million men and women who gave their lives in service of their country. At noon, their memory is symbolically raised by the living, who resolve not to let their sacrifice be in vain.
Over the years, the holiday was eventually extended to honor all Americans who died while in military service, not just those from the Civil War, and is currently observed every year on the last Monday of May.
However you choose to observe Memorial Day, we hope you have a safe, enjoyable, and memorable holiday.
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