Memorial Day is a holiday created as a day to recognize the dedicated men and women who died during their services. It is a federal holiday observed every last Monday in May. Unlike other military-related holidays in the United States like Armed Forces Day and Veterans Day, Memorial Day is specifically dedicated to fallen military service men and women. This holiday has evolved since the post-Civil War era, and has even become iconic in the American lifestyle.
There is much debate about who officially started the types of observances that would later lead to the official holiday we know as Memorial Day. While some historians argue that the holiday was started by former Union soldiers after the Civil War, others argue that the Confederacy started it. Perhaps it was started by both parties; historically, Confederate families showed a strong dedication to giving fallen soldiers proper burials as well as making sure their graves were well-kept. It is thought that the Union adopted these practices. In 1868, the Grand Army of the Republic established Decoration Day to encourage beautification of Union graves.
The original holiday was known as Decoration Day for several decades. While the Grand Army of the Republic established the day as a Union holiday, the practices eventually included all the states. After World War II, the holiday was renamed as Memorial Day, and it was held on May 30th every year. A bill created and passed in 1968 changed the date of Memorial Day to fall on the last Monday of May in order to provide citizens with three day weekends to better celebrate. This tradition has been celebrated since 1971.
Memorial Day celebrations are numerous in style and scope across the nation. Traditionally, the American flag is flown at half-mast every morning until noon that day. Many events are held at memorial grounds as well as at cemeteries. On Memorial Day, volunteers help to decorate the graves of soldiers with American flags and flowers. Special services are held at these sites, and the President of the United States has a speech every year.
The beautification of the graves of fallen soldiers is a tradition that stems back to the Confederacy during and after the Civil War. While these practices are still followed every Memorial Day, some of the events held today are often more uplifting. Parades and picnics are held in order to raise awareness, while giving families a chance to get together to celebrate their loved ones who fought and died during military service.
While traditional celebrations take precedence on Memorial Day, the holiday has also taken on other meanings in American culture. Many public schools are out for the summer, and this day often marks the starting time for vacations among many workers. While summer doesn’t officially start until June, many people in the U.S. consider the time between Memorial Day and Labor Day as summer. Some people also abide by unofficial fashion rules that permit the wearing of white shoes and clothing, although many of these patterns have been broken in recent years.
Since Memorial Day is a federal holiday, all government offices are closed on this date. Closures also extend to public schools and banks. Certain cities with strong military roots are often congested on Memorial Day due to all the events and celebrations. This is especially the case in Washington, D.C., as well as Arlington, Virginia.