Memorial Day sprung up after one of the bloodiest times in American history – the Civil War. So many lives were taken during the war it required the formation of the country’s first national cemeteries. While it’s unclear where the tradition actually originated, by the late 1860’s towns and villages were holding annual springtime tributes to the countless fallen soldiers, during which they would decorate graves with flowers.
On May 5th 1862 the leader of a Northern Civil War Veterans group, General John A. Logan, called for a nationwide day of remembrance.
“The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land,” proclaimed Logan.Considering the Civil War was spread across countless battles, May 30th was chosen as Decoration Day because it wasn’t tied to any particular Civil War event and presumably allowed the country to be more unified despite past differences.
Memorial Day Established
Decoration Day was created as a time to remember only those who were lost in the Civil War, but during World War II the United States found itself losing countless more lives. Because of this the holiday eventually grew to become a day to remember those who perished in any war.
So, what about the May 30th date established by General Logan? In 1968 Congress passed what is known as the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May. Why did they do this? Well, Congress wanted to create a three-day weekend for federal employees, so they did. The change went into effect in 1971 and the same law declared Memorial Day a federal holiday, cementing it in U.S. culture.
Being a time of remembrance for fallen soldiers, many towns hold parades incorporating branches of the military. Many also visit cemeteries and memorials to pay their respects to those we’ve lost.
Gatherings of family and friends around a BBQ are also very common during Memorial Day weekend, as many people also see the holiday as a sort of unofficial marker for the beginning of summer.
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