Memorial Day is a United States Federal holiday observed on the last Monday of May each year. Formerly known as Decoration Day, it commemorates US men and women who gave their lives while in military service for their country. While Memorial Day was first enacted to honor Union soldiers of the American Civil War, it was expanded after World War I to include American casualties of any war or military action.
The National Moment of Remembrance encourages all Americans to pause wherever they are at 3:00 pm local time each Memorial Day for one minute of silence to remember and honor those who have died in service to the US. As Moment of Remembrance founder Carmella LaSpada states: “It’s a way we can all help put the memorial back in Memorial Day.”
Memorial Day and Labor Day are often referred to as bookend holidays, marking the beginning and end of the summer holiday in the United States.
Memorial Day in the United States, a Day of Remembrance
Originally held on the 30th of every May, it is now observed on the last Monday in May each year, as one of the most special days for those who had family members in the various wars, battles, and conflicts over the decades.
This holiday originally called “Decoration Day”, was first officially observed on May 30, 1868 as the result of General John Logan’s General Order No. 11. Flowers were placed on Confederate and Union soldier’s graves at Arlington National Cemetery on that day.
Several southern states including Mississippi, continue to have an additional day to honor the Confederate war dead, others include Texas, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, Louisiana and Tennessee.
Events of Memorial Day
Americans often do the following every year during Memorial Day:
• Fly the American flag at half mast. This is done during all national days of mourning or days of respect for soldiers and other men and women in the armed services.
• Attend a speech or concert. This a favorite activity for those who wish to honor the country and its people. There is a national event in Washington, D.C. which is broadcast on PBS television and NPR radio for all to hear around the country and the world. “The Stars and Stripes Forever” composed by John Philip Sousa is one of the many familiar songs performed on this day.
• Have a backyard barbecue or cook out. These social gatherings are very American in nature, with Memorial Day weekend being a favorite time to host such an event. In fact, since this holiday is a three-day weekend from school and work with the added benefit of warmer weather, many enjoy cookouts in their backyards. Common foods include hot dogs and hamburgers, corn on the cob, steak, and chicken. It may be that this weekend is thought of as the beginning of summer making it a favorite time to hold a BBQ.
As the meaning of “Memorial Day” has broadened to include events not originally associated with “Decoration Day”, more and more Americans choose to celebrate the day.
With the country involved in armed conflicts overseas, many people have become more interested in what goes on with the country’s military and other armed forces resulting in an increased awareness about the purpose of this holiday.