It’s almost Memorial Day! This year, Memorial Day falls on Monday, May 30th, 2022.
We celebrate Memorial Day every year, but do you really know its history? You may know the basics, like how it is a United States national holiday that is observed on the last Monday of May to honor men and women who served in the military. We often celebrate it with a day off, parades, and reflection. But Memorial Day has a lot more history behind the scenes.
To set the stage, Memorial Day started around the time the American Civil War had ended. The war took many lives and as a result, a lot more cemeteries had to be built across the country. The war eventually ended in the spring of 1865.
After the war, many ceremonies were held in various places across the country to honor the fallen soldiers. For example, on May 1st, 1865, there was a gathering in Charleston, South Carolina that was organized by formerly enslaved people to pay tribute and bury Union troops. There was a parade of over 10,000 people who helped give Union soldiers a proper burial.
The ceremony in Charleston is believed by historians to have been a big inspiration for other celebrations and memorials. But Memorial Day wasn’t always the name of the day.
On May 5th, 1869, Decoration Day was declared by General John A. Logan, a leader of an organization for Northern Civil War veterans. This was a much-needed morale boost and a way to honor all the fallen soldiers.
The day was set for May 30th, 1868 and Logan described the day as being, “ designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land”.
The day itself was chosen because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular battle at the time. Logan wanted a neutral day to try and unite the country after the war.
In 1873, New York became the first state to designate Memorial Day as a legal holiday. Following this, many more cities and communities in the United States began to celebrate Memorial Day. Because of this influence, New York is considered the birthplace of Memorial Day.
By the 1890s most northern states had made Decoration Day an official state holiday with the southern states creating a separate holiday.
Over time, the meaning of Memorial Day began to change. It started during World War 1. When the United States entered the battle, the day evolved to reflect on all soldiers, not necessarily just soldiers from the Civil War.
Eventually, the day would also reflect on World War II, The Korean War, The Vietnam War, and more. Not only did the meaning and name change, but the date would also end up changing as well.
In 1971, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. This established that Memorial Day would be celebrated on the last Monday of May instead of on May 30th as Logan had previously declared. The reasoning behind this is said to have been so that federal employees could have a three-day weekend.
Memorial Day is still celebrated and important today. Every year a national moment of remembrance takes place at 3 pm on Memorial Day. In your hometown, you may also notice that communities celebrate memorial day with parades that often incorporate military personnel and veterans.
Another annual tradition is the Arlington National Cemetery commemorating Memorial day by placing a flag on each grave. They then hold a ceremony with about 5,000 people or so, in which the President and Vice President traditionally come and lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
If you want to learn even more about American history, check out Memory Road’s KardLet collection.
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