“Happy Memorial Day!” is a phrase that we hear frequently this time of year. However, unlike virtually every other holiday that results in a long weekend, Memorial Day is in fact not intended to be a celebration; its purpose is remembrance and reflection for the brave service men and women who have lost their lives serving and protecting their country.
The origins of Memorial Day date back to the time of the American Civil War. As a result of significant losses of life throughout the war, various cities and towns began holding springtime ceremonies to remember their fallen soldiers. The exact origin is up for debate, however in 1966 Waterloo, New York was designated as Memorial Day’s birthplace.
Once of the earliest recorded memorializations was organized in 1865 by recently freed slaves. That procession took place in Charleston, South Carolina, after a number of Union soldiers were corralled into prison camps and died of disease and illness. Hymns were sung and proper burial was given for the mass casualties.
Soon after on May 30, 1868, “Decoration Day” was established. This new holiday was conceptualized by General John A. Logan, who was the commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, a Union veterans’ group. There are disputes as to why May 30 was the date chosen for Decoration Day. Some argue that it was either because it is a date when no Civil War battles had taken place, others claim that the early summer day ensured that flowers would be plentiful and in full bloom. Whatever the reason for the selected date, on the first observance of Decoration Day, General James Garfield spoke at Arlington National Cemetery where 5,000 people gathered and decorated the 20,000 graves. For decades, May 30th was observed as Decoration Day as General Logan had intended, although the name “Memorial Day” became more commonly associated with the holiday and that name eventually stuck.
As years passed, the holiday developed into a commemoration of those lost in more recent conflicts, namely World War I. In 1968, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act passed Congress, shifting Memorial Day from it’s stationary date of May 30 to the last Monday in May. It also declared Memorial Day as a federal holiday.
Observing Memorial Day in current times usually ranges from the parades and ceremonies to family gatherings and outdoor activities with loved ones. However you choose to observe Memorial Day, remember to take some time and reflect on the sacrifices our military heroes have made.
Posted on May 24 2019 in Blog