Memorial Day is an American institution. Each year, millions of Americans commemorate their fallen heroes in observance of the national holiday. As we gather our families and friends for our festive barbecues, let us not forget the real reason for the day. Having began in the 1860s, many have forgotten much about the history of Memorial Day. Some may call it trivia, but when it comes to the fallen American heroes, nothing is trivial.
The origins of Memorial Day are heavily debated. Some believe the first civil soldier’s grave was decorated in 1861. Despite the 1861 claim, there is official documentation of decorated Confederate soldier graves in 1862. Historians claim ladies decorated soldier’s graves in July of 1864. Despite the disputes over the origin of the commemorations, the day has been observed on a large scale since 1865 when South Carolina held its first ceremonies commemorating the fallen from the Civil War.
The day was not originally observed by the southern states. The commemorations were dedicated to Union soldiers who’d died during the Civil War. It would not be recognized by the south until after World War I. After the first world war, the holiday was expanded to include the fallen American soldiers from that war as well. For over fifty years, only Union Soldiers were officially recognized during the memorials.
The day had always had a set date until much later in history. Memorial Day had been widely celebrated on May 30th until 1968. In order to ensure a long weekend in observance of the holiday, Memorial Day was moved to the last Monday in May, whatever date that may fall on. Because of this motion, Memorial Day no longer has an exact date.
Memorial day traditions go much further than parades and barbecues. Each year, soldiers from the 3rd U.S. Infantry gather to place miniature American flags on each grave in Arlington National Cemetery. The soldiers place the flags on the Thursday before the holiday. Each of the nearly 260,000 gravestones are given flags. The soldiers then patrol the cemetery throughout the entire weekend (twenty-four hours a day) to make sure all of the flags remain standing.
While many people recognize the change in weather as the official beginning to their summers, Memorial Day is widely recognized as the first day of summer. The day is considered such due to its being the first day of the season that families gather for summer themed events such as barbecues and parades. While Memorial Day is not the official first day of Summer, millions consider it to be. Labor Day is also widely recognized as the last day of Summer.
When a holiday consist of such a long and storied history, many of these important facts are forgotten by the masses. While many gather each year to commemorate the fallen soldiers of American wars, few know of the origins of the day. With each passing year, more is forgotten about the day. Allow us to immortalize it just as we have immortalized our fallen soldiers on the day.