Most of you probably know the basic facts of Memorial Day. You know that it’s a holiday to honor all of the individuals of our country who have lost their lives while serving in the military. You probably also know that it’s the unofficial start to summer. But do you know where it started, or its original name, or how the date was chosen? Keep reading to find out!
- It wasn’t always referred to as Memorial Day. When the holiday originated it was
called Decoration Day because it was a tradition to honor the fallen soldiers by decorating their graves with flowers, flags, and wreaths. The name legally became Memorial Day in 1967.
- Union General John A. Logan was the first to call for a day of remembrance. He chose May 30th, 1868, because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular battle. This date was observed for many years until the “Uniform Monday Holiday Act” was signed into effect in 1971. This act called for certain federal holidays to be observed on a Monday, therefore moving Memorial Day to the last Monday in May. (This act also moved the observances of George Washington’s Birthday, Labor Day, Columbus Day and Veterans Day.)
- Originally, it was a holiday honoring only those lives lost from the Civil War, the deadliest war in American history. The death toll of the Civil War was unprecedented. All of the American deaths combined from other conflicts barely surpasses the number of lives lost during the Civil War. After the US’s involvement in WWI, the holiday evolved to observe and honor all American lives lost during war.
- The exact birthplace of Memorial Day is still somewhat unknown. There are over 20 different cities that claim to be the birthplace, but in 1966 Congress unanimously passed a resolution to make Waterloo, New York, the official birthplace. Waterloo held annual services on May 5th to recognize those we lost in service.
- One of the more recent additions to the Memorial Day traditions was passed into law by Congress in 2000. This law implemented a National Moment of Remembrance, requiring all Americans to pause at 3 pm local time on Memorial Day to honor and remember the fallen.
- Memorial Day has many non-well-known traditions. On the day, it is asked that all states and territories fly their flags at half-staff until noon. This is requested for all buildings, naval vessels, grounds, and even the homes of the public. Another tradition is to wear red poppies as a way to honor and remember those we’ve lost. This tradition derived from soldier John McCrae’s poem, written during WWI. The poem describes red poppies growing over the graves of our lost soldiers. In 1915, Moina Michael, a teacher from Georgia petitioned to make the poppy a symbol of remembrance. The selling of poppies supports the work of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
We hope everyone has a wonderful Memorial Day weekend. During you celebrations, we ask that you take some time to remember all of the military lives we’ve lost throughout our country’s history.