Americans take it for granted now, but Memorial Day wasn’t always celebrated. In its earliest days, not everyone agreed on its premise and purpose. Below is a list of five facts about the holiday now known as Memorial Day that might just surprise you:
Nobody Knows For Sure Where it Started- While the “official” origin of Memorial Day is listed as being in Waterloo, NY, that is more of a designation than a historical fact. Even that didn’t take place until Lyndon Johnson decreed it in 1966. Prior to that, over two dozen different towns claimed themselves as the birthplace of Memorial Day.
It Wasn’t Always Called “Memorial Day”- Originally, it was called “Decoration Day” because of the intent of placing flowers on the graves of fallen soldiers. In fact, the Veterans Affairs department claims some still call it that.
It Was a Strictly Northern Holiday for Decades- Although Memorial Day was first observed on May 5th, 1868 when flowers were placed on the graves of Northern and Southern soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery, Southern states refused to celebrate it as a holiday until well after the conclusion of World War I. The holiday was recognized by all northern states by 1890.
It Wasn’t Always for Other Veterans- At the outset, Memorial Day was specifically for fallen soldiers who had fought in the Civil War. According to the U.S. Dept. Of Veterans Affairs, “It was not until after World War I, however, that the day was expanded to honor those who have died in all American wars.”
We Didn’t Always Get a 3-Day Weekend- We used to celebrate the holiday on May 30th, presumably because that is when all of the prettiest flowers are in bloom and ready to be placed on the graves of the fallen. It didn’t matter when May 30th fell, either. However, “In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress,” the U.S. Dept. Of Veterans Affairs said. By doing so, they also moved the observance date to fall in line with other federal holidays, making it the last Monday in May and insuring a three-day weekend. Critics of this move claim that also diminished the day’s importance and caused many to forget what it was all about.
Considering how easily five more things could have been listed above, Memorial Day might just be our least understood holiday.