A History of Memorial Day

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The Memorial Day holiday is often celebrated with cooking out, family gatherings, perhaps a parade and enjoying that extra day off of work or school. With the holiday unofficially signaling the beginning of summer, it’s easy to forget the meaning behind the nationally recognized holiday.

Historically observed on the last Monday of May, Memorial Day exists to honor men and women who died while serving in the United States Military. No one knows the exact origin of the holiday, however, the American Civil War (1861-1865) is thought to have played a large roll in it; the late 1860’s is when various towns and cities had begun holding springtime tributes for fallen soldiers.

According to History.com, the holiday was formally established in 1862 by General John A. Logan, leader of an organization for Northern Civil War veterans. On May 5 of 1862, he 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.” 

The day was originally called Decoration Day, due to the fact that it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular war or battle. Memorial day, as it’s now called, originally existed to honor soldiers lost from the Civil War; however, as more wars and battles such as World War I happened, the holiday began to evolve into a holiday that remembers and honors those who have fallen in all American wars and battles.

Memorial Day was observed on May 30 until 1968 when Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May, to create a three-day weekend for federal employees as well as officially declaring Memorial Day a federal holiday.

Each year, a national moment of remembrance takes place at 3 p.m., local time.

This year on Memorial Day, enjoy your extra day off of work or school. Grill out with family and friends and enjoy the (hopefully) nice weather that the beginning of summer brings. But also, take a moment to remember and reflect on what the holiday means. It might just make that day off, along with that burger and sunshine, that much sweeter.


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Tags: May 2016, Memorial Day History, Memorial Day Weekend

Megan Martin

Megan Martin is a Communications Specialist at M3 group and a graduate of Calvin College in Grand Rapids. She is a foodie, a lover of art and tea and everything outdoorsy.