What is Memorial Day?
Memorial Day is a federal holiday in the United States (May 29th 2017) – introduced to remember all of the people who died while serving in the country’s armed forces.
The holiday, which is held on the last Monday of May, started out as ‘Decoration Day’ after the American Civil War in 1868, when the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union veterans founded in Decatur, Illinois, established it as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the Union war dead with flowers.
By the 20th century, competing Union and Confederate holiday traditions – celebrated on different days, had merged, and Memorial Day eventually extended to honor all Americans who died while in the military service.
It marks the start of the unofficial summer vacation season, while Labor Day marks its end!
Many US citizens visit cemeteries and memorials, particularly to honor those who have died in military service.
Volunteers also place an American flag on each grave in the National cemeteries. On Memorial Day, the flag of the United States is raised briskly to the top of the staff, and then solemnly lowered to the half-staff position, where it remains only until noon. Then the flag is raised to full-staff for the remainder of the day.
The half-staff position remembers the more than one million men and women who gave their lives in service of their country. At noon, their memory is raised by the living, who resolve not to let their sacrifice be in vain, but to rise up in their stead and continue the fight for liberty and justice for all.
There often is a religious service and a picnic-like ‘dinner on the grounds’ – the traditional term for a potluck meal at a church.
It is believed that this practice began before the Civil War and thus may reflect the real origin of the ‘memorial day’.
Memorial Day should not be confused with Veterans Day – Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving, while Veterans Day celebrates the service of all US military veterans.