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US Memorial Day & Weekend: What is Memorial Day? Why Do We Celebrate It?


What is Memorial Day in the US? Where did it originate? In this post, we give you the background of the federal holiday, as well as Memorial Day facts.

Each year, on the final Monday in May, the United States celebrates Memorial Day.

However, many of us have forgotten the original meaning.

Presently, for most Americans, Memorial Day is considered to be the unofficial beginning of the summer season. People go on vacation, barbeque in the park, head to the beach, scour the malls for sales, and feel permitted to wear white again.

US flag at half staff for Memorial Day
Taken by J. Stone via unsplash.com. [Public Domain].


What is Memorial Day?

Memorial Day is a US federal holiday meant to honor US soldiers who died while serving in the armed forces. Almost 1.3 million American soldiers have died fighting in various wars, with 620,000 of them from the US Civil War alone.

As a national holiday, it differs from Veterans Day in that it only honors those killed in the line of duty. Veterans Day is a holiday meant to celebrate all armed forces members.

When is Memorial Day?

Memorial Day in the United States takes place on the last Monday in May.

The Memorial Day weekend includes the Saturday and Sunday immediately before, making it a 3-day weekend for many Americans. It is considered to be the unofficial start of summer, with the other bookend being the US Labor Day in September.

Decoration Day & the History of Memorial Day

Several years after the Civil War ended, Major General John Logan established Decoration Day to be observed on 30 May as a time to honor fallen Civil War soldiers with flowers on their graves.

From then, 1868, all the way up through 1970, Memorial Day was held on 30 May. But a law called the Uniform Monday Holiday Act from 1968 taking place in 1971 moved it to the last Monday in May. It also moved Washington’s Birthday and Columbus Day, among other national holidays.

More Memorial Day Facts

Congressional Public Law 106-579 established the National Moment of Remembrance to take place at 3:00 pm local time on Memorial Day. This law requests that all Americans, wherever they are, pause for one minute to remember and honor fallen soldiers. Many public venues, such as baseball stadiums, will call for a moment of silence from the entire crowd. Other entities go the opposite route, like Amtrak trains all blowing their horns for that minute.

The US flag is flown at half-staff on Memorial Day morning. According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, “On Memorial Day the flag should be flown at half-staff from sunrise until noon only, then raised briskly to the top of the staff until sunset, in honor of the nation’s battle heroes.”

Over two dozen US cities claim to be the “Birthplace of Memorial Day.” The official birthplace is Waterloo, NY, as it was declared such by presidential proclamation (Lyndon B. Johnson). However, that is all but discredited by historians.

The Lincoln Memorial was dedicated on Memorial Day in 1922 by Howard Taft, then the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Soldiers from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Division spend Memorial Day weekend spend more than 3 hours each placing flags in front of over 260,000 gravestones and 7,300 niches at Arlington National Cemetery. They then stay throughout the weekend to ensure the flags stay in place.

Well, that’s the United States national holiday of Memorial Day for you in a nutshell. If you have any questions, concerns, or corrections, let’s chat below in the comments! If you’re interested in American holidays, check out our posts on Cultural Diversity Day, Cinco de Mayo, St. Patrick’s Day, and American Thanksgiving. Thanks for reading!

Christian Eilers
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Christian Eilers
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