Memorial Day History
Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day and was initiated to honor the soldiers for the Union and Confederate armies who died during the American Civil War.
Celebrations honoring Civil War heroes started the year after the war ended. The establishment of a public holiday was meant to unify the celebration as a national day of remembrance instead of a holiday celebrated separately by the Union and Confederate states. By the late 19th century, the holiday became known as Memorial Day and was expanded to include the deceased veterans of all the wars fought by American forces. In 1971, Memorial Day became a federal holiday.
The original national celebration of Decoration Day took place on 30 May 1868. When Memorial Day became a federal holiday, it was given the floating date of the last Monday in May. Since many companies close for the holiday, Memorial Day weekend is three days long for most people. It is the unofficial beginning of the summer vacation season that lasts until the first Monday in September, which is Labor Day.
Some of the most common Memorial Day traditions that are still practiced in the United States today include:
- Every Memorial Day, the U.S. flag is quickly raised to the tops of flagpoles, slowly lowered to half-mast, and then raised again to full height at noon. The time at half-mast is meant to honor the million-plus fallen U.S. soldiers who have died for their country over the years. Re-raising the flag is meant to symbolize the resolve of the living to carry on the fight for freedom so that the nation’s heroes will not have died in vain.
- It is very common to visit cemeteries, particularly military cemeteries, at this time of year to decorate the graves. Small American flags, flowers, and wreaths are commonly placed by the tombstones.
- On the U.S. Capitol Building’s West Lawn, a Memorial Day concert is held annually. The musical performances are broadcast live around the country on PBS t.v. and NPR radio. Attendance is free, but most watch or listen from at home.
- There are literally thousands of Memorial Day parades all across the country in cities small and large. Typically, you will see marching bands, National Guardsmen, other Armed Forces members, and military vehicles from past U.S. wars.
- Many will wear or put on display red poppies on this day as a symbol of fallen soldiers. This tradition grew out of the famous poem by Canadian John McCrae who was known as In Flander’s Fields, which he was inspired to write upon seeing red poppies growing over the graves of World War I soldiers. You may well hear this poem’s opening lines quoted on Memorial Day:
“In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row”
Many families go on vacation on Memorial Day weekend, and many others who are off work or out of school stay home and enjoy family picnics and get-togethers. Most people open their swimming pools for the first time of the year as Memorial Day also ushers in those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer. If you do get out for the holiday, five events you may wish to attend are listed below. However, you can also view many of these events on the television if you remain at home.
- Numerous Memorial Day events are held at Arlington National Cemetery every year. If you visit, you can see a quarter-million miniature flags decorating the graves in the cemetery, witness the changing of the guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns, attend the official Memorial Day service in the amphitheater, and much more.
- You may wish to visit Washington D.C.’s National Mall, which is a two-mile stretch of land along the Potomac River that lies between the Washington Monument and the U.S. Capital Building. In it, you will find the Lincoln Memorial, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, the National World War II Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the National Museum of American History, and numerous other important places of historic interest.
- The oldest Memorial Day parade in the nation still takes place annually in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and tens of thousands attend. Nearby, you can also visit the Gettysburg Soldiers National Monument and Cemetery, and tour the battlefield.
- The National Memorial Day Parade on Constitution Avenue has been the nation’s largest since 2005, with over a quarter-million typically attending. There are whole military units that march by as well as floats and bands, and it is an unforgettable experience.
- If you want some sports entertainment around Memorial Day, the Indianapolis 500 auto race has been held on the Sunday just before Memorial Day since 1911. The NASCAR Coca-Cola 600 and the Memorial Tournament golfing event are also held at this time of year.
There is much patriotic significance attached to Memorial Day, and there are many events, both public and private, going on. If you travel for the weekend, be sure to plan ahead, book early, and drive safely on roads and airports will be very busy at this time of year.
Article Provided By: PUBLIC HOLIDAYS
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