Memorial Day Celebration

Memorial Day in America was first celebrated on May 5th, 1886 in Waterloo, New York. Originally referred to as Decoration Day, this holiday evolved in several ways as we now currently celebrate it during the last weekend in May. It is a very important holiday and tradition to take note of in America. 

What is Decoration Day?

Before the name changed to Memorial Day, the holiday was referred to as Decoration Day. The event began in the years following the Civil War. There were more lives claimed in the Civil War than any other conflict in U.S. history. Thereafter, many communities began to pay tribute to the fallen soldiers by decorating their graves, reading prayers aloud and more. \

In 1966, the United States government deemed Waterloo, New York as the birthplace of Memorial Day. However, other communities claimed the tradition began in their town. 

The date changed in 1868 by General John A Logan as he called for a nationwide day of remembrance. “The 30th of May, 1868, is 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,” he proclaimed. The date was also chosen because it was not the anniversary of any particular battle.

How Decoration Day transformed into Memorial Day

With Decoration Day originating out of the Civil War, it only took until World War I for the holiday to transform. The U.S. found itself in another major conflict and another reason to commemorate those who gave their life for the nation. Memorial Day now includes those who lost their lives in the Civil War, World War I, World War II, The Vietnam War, The Korean War and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The date of the holiday also changed. In 1968 Congress chose to pass the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. This created the three-day holiday weekend we all know today. Memorial Day is always celebrated on the last Monday in May and gives federal employees a long, holiday weekend. This went into effect in 1971. 

Memorial Day Traditions

Memorial Day is as American as warm, apple pie. Cities and towns across the country typically celebrate with parades, visiting cemeteries, giving memorials or hosting their own barbecues and parties. It also unofficially marks the beginning of summer. 

Red poppy flowers placed on crosses or graves is another Memorial Day tradition. This tradition is derived from the poem title “In Flanders Field.” This poem was written in 1915 by John McCrae.

What Activities Can I do on Memorial Day?

You can go beyond the backyard parties and time off by celebrating this holiday in new ways. Some ideas you can try this year to celebrate Memorial Day include:

  • Donate to a related cause or charity
  • Craft your own Memorial Day poppy
  • Write letters to active duty soldiers
  • Create and send care packages to send to soldiers serving abroad
  • Invite veterans to your barbecue
  • Fly the American flag
  • Listen to the stories of veterans
  • Partake in a moment of silence. The National Moment of Remembrance occurs at 3pm
  • Go to your local Memorial Day Parade
  • Decorate the graves of soldiers with flowers

Other Things You Might Not Know About Memorial Day

In addition to the history of Memorial Day, there are other things you might know about this American holiday. Here are some interesting things to consider:

  • Some say that a group of slaves in Charleston, South Carolina were the first to celebrate the holiday. This occured on May 1, 1865 when more than 1000 freed slaves, regiments of the U.S. Colored Troops and a few white Charlestonians gave a proper burial site to the Union dead. They sang songs, read aloud and distributed flowers around the newly laid cemetery.  
  • A few states still celebrate Confederate Memorial Day. 
  • Memorial Day did not become a federal holiday until 1971.
  • There are more than 20 towns that claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day. The federal government only recognizes Waterloo, New York at the founding place. President Lyndon Johnson inked this legislation.
  • On Memorial Day, it is a ritual to hang all American flags at half-staff until noon. 
  • The Lincoln Memorial was dedicated on Memorial Day in 1922.
  • Having no real relation to Memorial Day, another tradition on this weekend is the Indianapolis 500.

Final Thoughts

Celebrating Memorial Day serves to recognize those we’ve lost in war and how they served to protect our freedoms we hold so dear. It is important to give thanks to the soldiers who keep our country safe and free. There are little things you can give back and bigger ways to show your respect for those who have fallen. What will you do this Memorial Day Weekend?