For many Americans, Memorial Day is the day when the pool opens, hotdogs and hamburgers are on every grill, and you get to stay home from work. As the day has become the official start of summer in the contemporary ethos, the real meaning of this important holiday has sadly drifted into the background.
Here’s a refresher on what Memorial Day really means, as well as a few interesting facts that you may not have known before:
Memorial Day in a nutshell. Memorial Day is the day when we honor those who have given their lives in defense of our country, not be confused with Veterans Day, which honors everyone who has served in U.S. military.
History. This holiday, which was originally known as Decoration Day, was established by a group of Union veterans in 1868, as a time to decorate the graves of Union soldiers who had died in the Civil War. Southerners honored their fallen soldiers on a day in April, calling it Confederate Memorial Day. After World War I, Northerners and Southerners (for the most part) had come together on this May holiday, which was expanded to include Americans who have died in all of the country’s wars.
Why May? The holiday was originally celebrated on May 30 because that date didn’t mark any particular battle. Plus it was the best time of year to find fresh flowers to decorate soldiers’ graves! With the advent of the Monday Holiday Law in 1971, the date was changed from May 30 to the last Monday of the month.
Name change. Starting as Decoration Day, the holiday became known as Memorial Day in 1882, but the original name remained in use in many circles until after World War II. Federal law officially dubbed it “Memorial Day” in 1967.
Customs. On Memorial Day, it is traditional to fly your flag at half-staff from sunrise until noon, and then raise it briskly to the top of the staff until sunset. The red poppy is the official symbol of remembrance for fallen soldiers, thanks to a World War I volunteer who was inspired by the poem “Flanders Fields” to wear the flower in her lapel and start a campaign for others to do the same. The 24-note bugle call, “Taps,” is played at Memorial Day services.
National Moment of Remembrance. In 2000, Congress declared a National Moment of Remembrance. At 3 p.m., Americans are asked to pause for one minute to honor those who died in defense of our country.
Share your Memorial Day trivia.