In recent history, Memorial Day has meant the unofficial start to summer. Families BBQ on the grill, the local pool announces its opening day, retailers promote big sales.
While everyone has the freedom to celebrate as they choose, Americans should also remember that this holiday is really a somber occasion to pause and reflect as a nation.
What is Memorial Day?
The holiday takes place annually on the last Monday in May and is a dedicated day for honoring U.S. military personnel who have died while serving in the United States armed forces.
Over 1.3 Million Americans have paid the ultimate sacrifice for their nation.
When Was Memorial Day First Celebrated?
Memorial Day was originally called “Decoration Day.” In 1869, the head of an organization of Union veterans, Maj. Gen. John A. Logan, established Decoration Day as a way for the nation to honor the graves of those who died in the Civil War with flowers, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
There are debates over which city was the origin place of Memorial Day, although the first large observation was held at Arlington National Cemetery for a crowd of about 5,000 in 1868.
In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, New York the official “birthplace” of the holiday, according to the VA.
Why Was May 30th Chosen?
It is believed that May 30th was chosen by Logan as the day to observe Decoration Day because flowers would be in bloom nationwide, according to the VA.
Though there were future conversations over the official day for Memorial Day, by the end of the 19th century, state legislatures passed proclamations naming May 30th as the holiday.
When Was it Declared a Federal Holiday?
In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday, placing it as the last Monday in May. According to the VA, the day was expanded to honor all those who have died in American wars.
Congress in December 2000 passed and the president signed into law “The National Moment of Remembrance Act,” to ensure those who sacrificed their lives for the country were not forgotten.
How to Observe Memorial Day
At 3 p.m. local time, Americans are asked to take part in the National Moment of Remembrance, a time to pause in a moment of silence to honor those who have died serving the U.S.
Editor’s Note: A version of this story was originally published in 2022.