Every last Monday of May, people in the U.S. gather to celebrate Memorial Day and honor the brave men and women who have passed away while serving in the U.S. armed forces. This year, Memorial Day falls on Monday, 31, 2021. But have you ever wondered about the origins of this American holiday? While many enjoy their Memorial day weekend BBQing or lounging by the beach, the holiday is so much more than that. Read on to learn what memorial day is and why we celebrate it.
When is Memorial Day?
Memorial Day is a holiday observed in the U.S. that occurs annually on the last Monday of May. However, numerous states, including Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia, observe a second Memorial Day known as Confederate Memorial Day during various days in the year, ranging from January 19 to June 3.
History of Memorial Day
The Civil War in the U.S. resulted in numerous casualties, so much so it required the creation of national cemeteries. The Arlington National Cemetery, one of the most prominent national cemeteries, has approximately more than 20,000 graves belonging to both Union and Confederate soldiers. It’s stated that there were about 620,000 deaths during the Civil War.
Soon after the Civil War ended in 1865, several communities around the U.S. began gathering at cemeteries to honor the deceased. Although the exact origins of Memorial Day are unclear, many were inspired to organize and pay tribute to those who fought in the Civil War during this time. It wasn’t until 1873 that the state of New York proclaimed this day of remembrance as an official and legal holiday. Businesses in the area would close for the day and individuals would gather to decorate the graves of fallen soldiers with flags and flowers. Many states followed their lead.
Fast forward to almost a century later, the federal government named Waterloo, New York as the place where Memorial Day originated from in 1966. Then, in 1971, Memorial Day became an official and recognized federal holiday after the Uniform Monday Holiday Act was passed by Congress. The act declared that Memorial Day would be celebrated every year on the last Monday of May, which is a three-day weekend.
Although Memorial Day began as a day to honor deceased Civil War soldiers, this holiday now encompasses paying respect to all U.S. military personnel that have passed away in the line of duty.
Despite being around since the late 1860s, Memorial Day hasn’t always been referred to as such. In fact, Memorial Day was initially known as Decoration Day. Decoration Day was established three years after the Civil War ended by the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), an organization primarily composed of Union veterans, on May 5, 1868. Their goal was to honor fallen Union soldiers, and they would decorate their comrades’ graves with flowers.
Memorial Day Traditions
Every year, a special ceremony takes place at the Arlington National Cemetery, the most known military cemetery in the country. This cemetery is the final resting place for numerous prominent figures in U.S. military history. On Memorial Day, flags are placed at each grave and the President and Vice President participated in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Many people across the nation also take the time to celebrate with their families, visit cemeteries, and enjoy Memorial Day parades. If you wish to celebrate Memorial Day, here are a few ideas to help you plan your day:
- Attend a Memorial Day event in your community: As mentioned, cities across the country observe Memorial Day by hosting parades and events. These events will typically include a moment of silence for fallen soldiers, a memorial service, and educational entertainment that teaches attendees the importance of the holiday.
- Use flags to decorate: Memorial Day is a great day to place flags and banners in your front yard to show your support for those who have lost a loved one while serving their country. You can also decorate with Memorial Day flowers.
- Learn the history: Continue learning about Memorial Day by visiting museums and historical landmarks.
- Volunteer: Memorial Day organizers often need assistance from volunteers to place flowers and flags at local military gravesites. Volunteer a bit of your time to help while paying your respects to those who have passed.
These are just some of the ways that you can celebrate Memorial Day with your friends or family. No matter what activities you decide to pursue, remember to remain respectful and recognize what the day is truly about.
Flowers for Memorial Day
The red poppy is the most popular flower to celebrate Memorial Day with. It became a symbol of remembrance after the poem “In Flanders Fields” was published by World War II surgeon John McCrae. The poem describes the narrator as astonished by the resilience of poppies as they continued to grow on a war-torn battlefield.
Memorial day means so much to various Americans in the U.S., so to show your support, consider making a bouquet of red poppies or browse our collection of best-selling flowers to send a touching tribute to those who have lost someone in the military.