What is Memorial Day?
The last Monday of May is a national holiday in the United States to honor those who have lost their lives in military service to our country. The first celebration of this holiday was called Decoration Day, and its purpose was to commemorate loss of lives of Union soldiers in the Civil War. The name was changed to Memorial Day after the first World War, and it now memorializes those who have lost their lives in all military branches in the U.S.
It is believed that Memorial Day began in 1865 in Charleston when Union soldiers and freed slaves gathered at a race track to celebrate the Union's victory and to honor those who had lost their lives in the battles. Several similar Confederate gatherings had already been taking place during and after the war. Union General John A. Logan noted how the Confederacy was honoring its fallen soldiers and pointed out that the entire nation needed a way of honoring all soldiers who lost their lives for their country. He, along with a veterans group that he headed, the Grand Army of the Republic, created Decoration Day and encouraged all citizen to use the day as a reverent observation. The day was made an official holiday on May 30, 1868, when the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers were decorated with flowers and ribbons.
Memorial Day was moved to the last Monday in May in 1971 by Congress to ensure a three-day weekend holiday. Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day weekend are sometimes thought of as the unofficial summer bookends.
How Memorial Day is CelebratedTo celebrate Memorial Day families often visit graves of family members or others who have lost their lives in military service. National Cemeteries decorate each grave with a flag, and flags are usually flown at half-staff from sunrise to noon by government agencies, schools, churches, and businesses. In 2000 Congress passed the National Moment of Remembrance Resolution, which asks that Americans "voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to Taps.”
Most Americans spend Memorial Day as a relaxing day of vacation--barbecuing, boating, fishing, or spending the day with family and friends. Unfortunately, few participate in solemn practices that should be associated with this day of remembrance. Many believe that moving Memorial Day to create a three-day weekend has placed the emphasis on having a fun rather than a solemn celebration. Many feel that it should be moved back to its original date of May 30. Regardless of when Memorial Day is celebrated, we should all remember to observe this holiday by showing pride in our country and remembrance for those who have sacrificed their lives for our freedom.