When and why do we observe Memorial Day?
In 1868, three years after the Civil War ended, when the nation picked a day to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. This day was called the Decoration Day and was chosen to be May 30th because flowers would be in bloom at that time all over the country.
The first official National observance was held in 1868 at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D.C. The ceremonies included many speeches, after which people walked through the cemetery, laying flowers on both the graves, reciting prayers and singing hymns*.
Over time, the name Decoration Day started to change to Memorial Day. In 1971, President Nixon, declared Memorial Day a National holiday. The day to observe it was decided to be the last Monday of May. Eventually, the Memorial Day honors were extended to men and women who died in all the wars and not just the civil war.
Today, at the Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery you will see thousands of people placing small American flags on each grave. This is also a tradition followed at many cemeteries around the country. In December 2000, Congress passed “The National Moment of Remembrance Act, which encourages all Americans to pause wherever they are at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day for a minute of silence to honor the deceased* war soldiers.
Did you know:
- 620,000 men died in the Civil War. This extremely high number of deaths is what inspired Americans to honor the dead and create the beginnings of Memorial Day.
- A picnic meal eaten in a cemetery while sitting on the ground on Memorial Day is a tradition still practiced by many in rural areas.
Gravesite: Location of a person’s grave
Hymns: A religious song or poem
Deceased: The person who has died