Memorial Day will be observed by Americans across the country this Monday, May 28. Here, we trace the origins of the holiday and preview what to expect.
What is Memorial Day?
Memorial Day is a national American holiday observed on the last Monday of May, and serves as a day of remembrance for those who died in service to the United States, according to USMemorialDay.org. It was originally called "Decoration Day," and the current name for the holiday did not come into use until after World War II, Timeanddate.com explains.
For many, Memorial Day marks the beginning of the summer season. Because it is a federal holiday, all non-essential government offices are closed, as are most schools, businesses and other organizations in the US, according to TimeandDate.com, making the long weekend a popular vacation time for Americans.
When did it start?
Memorial day has its roots in the Civil War, when women in the Northern United States would decorate the graves of their fathers, husbands, brothers and other loved ones who had died in the battle — hence the name "Decoration Day," About.com reported.
The South refused to acknowledge the holiday, according to USMemorialDay.org, and Southern Americans honored their Civil War victims and vets on different days (including Confederate Memorial Day on May 10, UPI reported) until after World War I, when the holiday became a time of remembrance for all US war veterans.
The first official celebration of Memorial Day was May 30, 1868, and was observed on May 30 until 1971, when the Federal Uniform Holidays Act moved it to the last Monday in May, according to About.com.
Many American towns claim that they are "Birthplace of Memorial Day," including Boalsburg, PA; Waterloo, NY; Charleston, SC; Carbondale, IL; Columbus, MS; and others, according to About.com.
How is it observed?
Memorial Day has progressed from being a purely solemn holiday to combining both "reflection and celebration," as the Washington Post reported. Many cities and towns hold parades and festivals which feature veterans, brass bands, and others. Cemeteries, especially those with many veterans' graves, have wreath-laying ceremonies, according to the Post.
Washington, DC holds an annual National Memorial Day Concert, and barbecues are also a popular holiday celebration.
What is the significance?
As America continues to fight the in Afghanistan through 2014 (making it the longest war in the nation's history, as ABC News reported) Memorial Day offers an opportunity for civilians to acknowledge and honor soldiers and marines who have fought for the US.
"On May 28th, many Americans will gather — and maybe feast at a backyard barbeque — not even realizing what Memorial Day is really all about," wrote Kerry Patton, a combat service disabled veteran in a column on FoxNews.com. "We have been socially conditioned. And our veterans have been socially conditioned into believing that open dialogue about their times spent fighting abroad is taboo."
What are your Memorial Day plans, if any? What do you think of the holiday's evolution? Let us know in the comments.