Memorial Day is a federally recognized holiday that occurs on the final Monday of May. It is dedicated to remembering the men and women who died while serving in the U. S. Armed Forces. While the origins of this day go back to the Civil War, Memorial Day is by its very nature an extension of holiday traditions occurring in many countries that recognize those that have passed from our world.
In addition, Memorial Day marks the beginning of summer vacation season while Labor Day, the first Monday in September, marks the end. Millions of Americans take their vacations during this time of year as well as visit cemeteries to honor not only those who served their country, but also their own family and relations as well.
The History of Memorial Day
Putting flowers on the graves of fallen soldiers is a tradition that goes back thousands of years. Before the Civil War, the graves of soldiers were decorated with flowers and other objects of remembrance, but there was not official day that was recognized for this event.
It was the Civil War that brought about the origins of Memorial Day. The number of soldiers killed during the war greatly exceeded anything in U. S. history and the profound effect was felt even during the early years of the war itself.
Different communities in the North and South declared particular days one of remembrance for their fallen soldiers. The City of Savannah, Georgia documented that women decorated the graves of soldiers in 1862 while historians point to the city of Boalsburg, Pennsylvania where the women decorated soldiers’ graves on July 4th, 1864. To this day, Boalsburg promotes this day as being the birthplace of Memorial Day.
However, the end of the war with over 600,000 dead (including President Abraham Lincoln who was assassinated) took on an even greater significance than ever before. The practice of formally decorating the graves had formed across the U. S. as the federal government created national cemeteries to bury the war dead.
The first widely publicized observance occurred in Charleston, South Carolina on May 1st, 1865 at the unmarked graves of Union soldiers who died in nearby prisons. The May Day ceremony drew nearly 10,000 people including 3,000 school children and a broad section of the local population. Many brought flowers to the graves which would afterwards be called the “First Decoration Day”.
Over the next century, the day would be celebrated by many communities in the U. S., although no single, formal day was actually recognized. What was known as “Decoration Day” was held during the month of May across the U. S. with the actual day depending on what each community decided to recognize. This would all change on May 26th, 1966 as President Lyndon Johnson signed a proclamation declaring Waterloo, New York as the birthplace of Memorial Day.
Earlier that day, the U. S. Congress passed House Resolution 587 which recognized Memorial Day as a national holiday as the fourth Monday of May. This act along with the Presidential proclamation solidified Memorial Day across the U. S. and created what we now know as one of our most important national holidays.
Rumor Has It …
… that the Memorial Day BBQ was first invented by a guy name Willy Nilly who drank too much beer and was overheard shouting at the neighbor’s dog, “When pigs freeze over first!” To this day, no one knows exactly what this means.