The last Monday in May is an especially exciting day for Americans. It’s the unofficial start of summer. Many businesses close for the day, giving their workers days off to travel throughout the country and spend time with loved ones. It’s often a day of cookouts and sun; in fact, Americans will consume more than 70 million hot dogs throughout the day. The day actually began as a grassroots movement to commemorate great loss. Certainly enjoy hot dogs on Monday and be mindful of the significance of the day. 

Here are 6 important facts about Memorial Day history and customs:

The Origins

Memorial Day was originally a day in remembrance of the unprecedented loss of life in the Civil War. It began as a grassroots movement led by women. In 1864, women from Pennsylvania put flowers on the graves of the soldiers who fell at the Battle of Gettysburg. From there, women from other towns began doing similar things, until it became a national trend.

Since the day began with decorating graves or markers with flowers, it was originally called “Decoration Day.” The name didn’t change until 1967 and it wasn’t declared an official federal holiday until 1971.

Birthplace

There is some controversy about the geographic origins of Memorial Day, but the Federal Government recognizes Waterloo, New York as the official birthplace. They held an annual community service day that began on May 5, 1866. Many towns disagree with the official ruling by the government, especially the homes of the women who led the initial grassroots movement.

Changes after WWI

Memorial Day had its origins in the Civil War, but that has since changed. After World War I, its scope expanded. It now honors the fallen from every war that the United States has participated in.

Poppies

It’s customary to wear poppies on Memorial Day. Veteran Affairs even provides poppies to anyone who asks for them. This is thanks to a 1915 poem by Colonel John McCrae. “In Flanders Field,” was a response to his grief at the “row on row” of the dead at Flanders field. It begins:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly.
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

Thanks to his vivid imagery, poppies have become an important part of the federal holiday.

Date Change

Memorial Day used to be celebrated on the 30th of May, but in 1971 it was officially changed to always be the last Monday of the month of May. The original date was chosen so flowers would be in full bloom when laid on soldiers’ graves.

Official Customs

Memorial Day may be the unofficial start of summer, but it actually comes with several important customs that were slowly adopted over time. The flag is to be flown at half-staff until noon when it is raised to the top. It should remain there until sunset. Congress also established a “National Moment of Remembrance.” Americans are asked to pause for one minute at 3 PM. for unity throughout the nation.

Does your family have any special traditions for Memorial Day? Please share them with us!


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