Interesting Facts About Memorial Day: Let’s Honor Our Heroes!

Memorial Day Tribute

Memorial Day Tribute

Each year on the final Monday in May the United States celebrates the federal holiday Memorial Day. Originally Memorial Day was known as Decoration Day, meant to honor the Union and the Confederate soldiers who died during the American Civil War. It marks the start of the unofficial summer vacation season, while Labor Day marks its end.
That is why Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start of summer — a time for cookouts and picnics, parades and sales. Many people extend their celebration to four-day weekends and head off to the beach or the country to have fun.
By the 1900s it had become a day to celebrate all American soldiers who died while serving in the military. It wasn’t until 1967 that it was legally named Memorial Day. It became a federal holiday in 1971.
Memorial Day is not to be confused with Veterans Day; Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving, while Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans.
Memorial Day is much more than just a three-day weekend and a chance to get the year’s first sunburn. Here’s a handy pack of interesting facts to give the holiday some perspective.
1. The true origins of who held the first Memorial Day celebration is a debated subject as there were several claims made in different places such as Warrenton (Virginia), Savannah (Georgia) and Gettysburg (Pennsylvania).
2. Memorial Day traditions have evolved over the years. Despite the increasing celebration of the holiday as a summer rite of passage, there are some formal rituals still on the books: The American flag should be hung at half-staff until noon on Memorial Day, then raised to the top of the staff.
And since 2000, when the U.S. Congress passed legislation, all Americans are encouraged to pause for a National Moment of Remembrance at 3 p.m. local time. The federal government has also used the holiday to honor non-veterans—the Lincoln Memorial was dedicated on Memorial Day 1922.
And, while its origins have little to do with fallen soldiers, the Indianapolis 500 has certainly become a Memorial Day tradition of its own–this year marks the 102nd time the race will be run to coincide with the holiday.
3. It was first known as Decoration Day. The holiday was long known as Decoration Day for the practice of decorating graves with flowers, wreaths, and flags.
The name Memorial Day goes back to 1882, but the older name didn’t disappear until after World War II. Federal law declared “Memorial Day” the official name in 1967.
4. On the first Memorial Day, General James Garfield made a speech at the Arlington National Cemetery, and over 5,000 participants decorated the 20,000 graves of fallen soldiers buried there.
5. Congress passed a law in 2000 that requires all Americans to stop what they are doing at 3pm on Memorial Day to remember and to honor those who have died serving the United States. President Clinton signed this action.
6. Northern states adopted Memorial Day (known as the Decorative Day back then) earlier and with more enthusiasm than the former Confederate states.
In fact, it was not until after the World War I when the South finally adopted the holiday. At that time, the purpose of Memorial Day was broadened to include American soldiers fallen in all wars, not just in the Civil War.
7. Logan probably adapted the idea from earlier events in the South. Even before the war ended, women’s groups across much of the South were gathering informally to decorate the graves of Confederate dead.
In April 1886, the Ladies Memorial Association of Columbus, Georgia resolved to commemorate the fallen once a year—a decision that seems to have influenced John Logan to follow suit, according to his own wife.
However, southern commemorations were rarely held on one standard day, with observations differing by state and spread out across much of the spring and early summer. It’s a tradition that continues today: Nine southern states officially recognize a Confederate Memorial Day, with events held on Confederate President Jefferson Davis’ birthday, the day on which General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson was killed, or to commemorate other symbolic events.
8. New York was the first state to officially announce Memorial Day as a holiday in 1873. By 1890, the holiday was recognized as an official holiday by all of the northern states.

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