Every year, Memorial Day is marked by get-togethers, retail sales and other fun events. It’s a fun and enjoyable holiday today, but that’s not how it started. What other facts don’t you know about Memorial Day?
In the Beginning
At its earliest, Memorial Day was known as Decoration Day. It began after the end of the Civil War, and back then the holiday was used to honor Union and Confederate soldiers. Years later, the holiday was extended to encompass all United States servicemen who died in the line of duty. Memorial Day is meant to honor all soldiers who died for their cause, but today many people use the holiday to remember all their deceased loved ones.
Though it originated at the end of the Civil War in 1864, Memorial Day wasn’t declared an official holiday in the U.S. until 1971. This is when the day was originally set on the last Monday of May. By then, many towns and families had developed their own traditions for celebrating the holiday. Many cities still throw Memorial Day parades. It was common to gather with friends and family and serve a potluck meal. Today, that tradition has evolved into Memorial Day cookouts.
Memorial Day has evolved so much over the years, many don’t use the day to honor the dead at all. But did you know that you’re breaking a federal law every time you don’t? Congress actually passed an official law in December 2000 that requires all Americans to stop at 3 pm local time on Memorial Day, and take a moment to honor fallen soldiers.
Washington, D.C. hosts a yearly Memorial Day demonstration . A motorcycle group known as Rolling Thunder rides into the city every year on the holiday in order to raise awareness for MIA and POW soldiers who were lost during the Vietnam War. The yearly event began in 1988. Today, it draws hundreds of thousands of bikers to our nation’s capital.
Some southern states hold their own Memorial Day for Confederate soldiers, carrying on a very old tradition from the earliest days of the holiday.
Memorial Day is a national holiday for everyone, and many people have found their own ways to celebrate it. What new traditions will you develop this year?