Today, we celebrate Memorial Day, a federal holiday that commemorates those who have died in the service of our country. To many people, Memorial Day is viewed as a holiday that marks the unofficial beginning of summer. But it is not that simple. What is the real significance of Memorial Day? When did it begin?
Memorial Day is celebrated on the last Monday of May. It began after the Civil War to commemorate soldiers of both the Union and the Confederacy who had died during that war. It was first celebrated in 1868 when the commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, General John Logan, issued a proclamation for a national holiday called “Decoration Day” to be celebrated annually on May 30. The name Decoration Day was derived from the ancient custom of decorating soldiers’ graves with flowers. Supposedly, the May date was chosen because (1) it was not the anniversary of any particular Civil War battle, and (2) it was a date when flowers were in bloom. In any event, over time the holiday caught on as state after state designated Decoration Day as an official holiday. Gradually, the holiday became referred to as “Memorial Day,” but the name was not changed officially until 1967. In 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which moved the holiday from May 30 to the last Monday in May. (Three other holidays were also moved from their original dates to a Monday in order to make convenient three day weekends. Can you name them? The answer appears below.)
Memorial Day is also a good day to reflect on the sacrifices made by members of our armed forces to protect us and preserve our freedom and our way of life. Some wars have been more popular politically than others, and, at times, the military has not been viewed positively in some circles, but politics should not influence how we view veterans. Many of them made the “supreme sacrifice” on our behalf; others did not die but suffered grievous physical or emotional wounds. All of them interrupted their lives and careers in the service of our country.
So, if you know a veteran, the next time you see him or her make it a point to thank them for their service. It will make their day, and yours too.
Oh, the answer to my mini quiz: The other holidays moved to permanent Mondays were Washington’s Birthday (now known as Presidents’ Day), Columbus Day and Veterans Day (which was later returned to its original date of November 11).