Date and Origin of Memorial Day

Flags-In at Arlington National Cemetery for Memorial Day 2008
'Flags-In', Arlington National Cemetery, Memorial Day 2008
(The U.S. Army / CC-by)

Memorial Day Dates in 2017, 2018 and 2019

Memorial Day is celebrated at the following dates:

  • Monday, May 29th 2017
  • Monday, May 28th 2018
  • Monday, May 27th 2019

Memorial day is observed on the last Monday of May.

It is in memory of all those who have died in the American armed forces. Traditionally, it marks the unofficial first day of summer.

Origin

It is unclear where the tradition of memorial day started, though it almost certainly began around the end of the civil war in 1868. Originally known as decoration day, the memorial day tradition of placing flowers on graves was said to have started when confederate women saw the unadorned graves of union soldiers and, disturbed by bare graves, decorated them with flowers1.

The first official, widely publicized memorial day celebration took place, arguably, in Charleston, South Carolina on May 1, 18653. The oldest, continuously run memorial day parade takes place in Ironton, Ohio4. The name Memorial day was not commonly used until after World War II and only became a federal law in 19675. The Uniform Monday Holiday Act then moved memorial day to fall on a Monday, creating a three day weekend.

First Memorial Day

On the first memorial day in Charleston South Carolina, there was an attitude of celebration. The celebration was put on by mostly freed black men who cleaned and landscaped the burial ground of soldiers3. Most who attended brought flowers for the dead. Despite Charleston being the first widely publicized celebration, Lyndon B. Johnson signed a presidential proclamation in 1966 naming Waterloo, New York as the birthplace of memorial day1.

Other places have claimed to be the birthplace of this holiday, including Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, Carbondale, Illinois, Columbus, Georgia and Columbus, Mississippi along with dozens of other origination theories5. The north followed the southern tradition and on May 5, 1868 General John A. Logan, then commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, declared a proclamation to celebrate decoration day nationwide6.

Celebration

Celebrations for memorial day include parades, visiting cemeteries and, less formally, barbecues. The United States flag is quickly raised in the morning and then solemnly lowered to half mast in remembrance of fallen troops7. At noon, it is raised by living soldiers who resolve to continue to fight for liberty and justice so that their sacrifice was not made in vain6. Decoration days are still celebrated in certain cemeteries on Sundays in late spring or early Sunday in some areas of the southern United States, sometimes serving as family reunions2.

Other long standing traditions include the Indianapolis 500, a NASCAR race that has been held on Memorial day since 19118and the Memorial Tournament in golf that has taken place on, or close to, memorial day weekend since 19769.

Congress passed the National Moment of Remembrance Act in 2000, which requests that people stop to remember soldiers' sacrifices at 3:00PM10.

Holidays

Wednesday 09 August Week 32 | Felim OWaning Gibbous

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