Memorial Day weekend has become a holiday weekend that people look forward to all winter and spring.  It is the de facto start of the summer season and it’s filled with cookouts, camping trips, and family gatherings.  But, it’s easy to forget the actual reason we observe Memorial Day when you’re sitting by the pool contemplating your summer vacation.  The historical significance of the day is much more than a three-day weekend filled with relaxation and celebration.

Memorial Day is a solemn day of remembrance for all who have died serving our country in the armed forces.  It began after the Civil War, which claimed more lives than any conflict in U.S. history, to honor the Union and Confederate dead, and was originally known as Decoration Day. By the late 1860s, Americans began holding springtime tributes to their fallen soldiers by decorating their graves with flowers and reciting prayers.  It soon became a nationwide date of remembrance held on May 30, 1868.  That date was chosen because it did not coincide with any particular battle.

Decoration Day gradually became known as Memorial Day and included military personnel who died in all wars.  It was observed on May 30th for decades until 1968, when Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May so that federal workers would get a three-day weekend.  The same law made Memorial Day a federal holiday.

Across the United States cities and towns will host Memorial Day parades that include military personnel and members of veterans’ organizations.  Washington DC, New York City, and Chicago are known for hold some of the largest parades to commemorate this day. 

Even if you can’t make it to a parade, you can still observe the day by visiting cemeteries and memorials, or even just taking a moment of silence to thank those who have sacrificed their lives for our freedom.  

Memphis National Cemetery

Memphis National Cemetery on Memorial Day - Photo Credit: youtube.com