The evolution of this holiday
Whether you’re acutely aware of the meaning behind Memorial Day or simply enjoy the day off of work, it’s important to immerse yourself in the history. Beginning in 1971, the last Monday of May is a federal holiday reserved for honoring men and women who died while in battle while serving in the United States Military.
Originally known as Decoration Day, it originated in the years following the Civil War, when Americans began honoring soldiers who were killed in the Civil War – a conflict that claimed more lives than any other in U.S. history, requiring the creation of the country’s first national cemeteries.
General John A. Logan, leader of an organization for Northern Civil War veterans, called for a nationwide day of remembrance in May of 1868:
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.
Gradually, as more American soldiers died during World War I and II, people desired to honor their memories, along with those who sacrificed their lives during the Civil War. Almost 100 years later in 1966, the federal government acknowledged Waterloo, New York as the official birthplace of Memorial Day – for the memory of all fallen American soldiers.
Then in 1968 Congress changed the date; Memorial Day became a three-day weekend, making the last Monday in May a holiday for federal employees, effective in 1971 – through the Uniform Monday Holiday Act.
Today, parades and memorials take place to remember those who have gone before us in battle. Some of the largest parades take place in Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C.
Unofficially, Memorial Day weekend begins the summer season. Even for those people not participating in specific holiday celebrations, many take advantage of this opportunity to spend valuable family time together with weekend trips and barbeques.