We’re thankful all year round, but we give thanks at Thanksgiving time to our loyal…
For many Americans, Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of summer. We enjoy the long holiday weekend, pool parties, and cookouts. It also means great sales on grills and other items for the home.
However, the true meaning of Memorial Day tends to get lost in the shuffle. Or, people get it confused with Veteran’s Day. Today, we’re going to look at how Memorial Day came about, and what it truly means.
Memorial Day Honors Those Who Died During Military Service
There. That’s the meaning of Memorial Day. It’s a day set aside to honor the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. Whether they died on the front lines or during a training exercise, Memorial Day honors them. Veteran’s Day honors all those who served or currently serve in our nation’s military.
The History of Memorial Day
Originally, Memorial Day was known as Decoration Day. You may have heard a grandparent refer to it this way. Decoration Day originated after the U.S. Civil War, and families would decorate the graves of fallen soldiers. However, Decoration Day only honored Civil War soldiers who died. It has evolved over the years to honor U.S. military personnel who died in any war or military conflict.
Many people are unaware that one of the earliest recorded observances of Memorial Day was organized by a large group of formerly enslaved people in Charleston, South Carolina. You read that right. Less than a month after the Confederacy surrendered in 1865, freed African Americans organized a gathering to honor fallen Union soldiers who died at a Confederate prison camp.
You can read more about how it all came about in this History Channel article detailing the event.
The Official Birthplace of Memorial Day
Even though the observance in Charleston occurred in 1865, the U.S. government declared Waterloo, New York the official birthplace of Memorial Day. This is because Waterloo started an annual event in 1866 where businesses closed and people decorated soldiers’ graves with flags and flowers.
In 1868, May 30 was designated Decoration Day. It wasn’t until 1971 that Memorial Day became a federal Monday holiday, creating a long weekend for federal employees. We now observe it on the last Monday in May.
Memorial Day Today
Around the country, Americans still decorate the graves of soldiers who died in service. Many cities and towns have parades, while others hold observances in local parks or cemeteries. The biggest observance in our area is the National Memorial Day Parade in Washington, DC.
We hope you have found this mini-history lesson helpful. If your children are unaware of what the holiday is all about, please share the information with them. We all owe a debt of gratitude to our fallen servicemen and women.
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