Memorial Day is almost here, and with it the start of summer! That’s what I, and I believe most people think of when they enjoy the holiday on the 4th Monday of May. But roll back almost 160 years and we can uncover the origins of the day we observe as Memorial Day.
When the Civil War ended in 1865 it had claimed more lives than any conflict before or after in U. S. history, with 620,000 dead. So many that the first National Cemeteries near battlefields were established. A few years later, Americans started holding springtime tributes, decorating the graves of the fallen in an effort to help the nation and the families who had lost loves ones in their grief.
Waterloo, NY is credited with the birth of Decoration Day, as it was first called, as the city held an annual community wide celebration each spring, including decorating the graves of fallen soldiers with flowers. By 1890, every state in the nation had an official holiday in May to honor those lost in the Civil War.
After WWI the focus of the day shifted to all of those who lost their life in service to our country, not just the Civil War. In 1968, the Uniform Holiday Act made Memorial Day a federal holiday and moved it to consistent observation on the 4th Monday of May across the nation. Memorial Day is distinct from Veteran’s Day. Memorial Day honors those that gave their life, where Veteran’s Day honors all those who are serving or have served our country in the armed forces.
When I was a child, I remember veterans selling poppies in the local stores and at street corners, their bright red proudly displayed in pockets and shirt lapels for the weekend of Memorial Day.
Now, Memorial Day includes many traditions. Many communities line their streets with flags and flags are placed on graves of those lost. A wreath is placed in a very ceremonious way at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Washington D.C. Parades and celebrations are held in some towns. Flags are flown at half-mast from sunrise to noon, then at full mast till sunset.
In 2000, President Clinton signed an order that at 3 p.m., Americans should pause their Memorial Day celebrations for a moment of silence to honor those that gave all. So, no matter what your plans are for the holiday season ahead, whether you are in the throes of your own grief journey, have lost a loved one in military service, or are just celebrating the start of summer, take a few minutes at 3 p.m. this Memorial Day to honor those who gave all.
And have a great start of summer, dear readers!
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