Memorial Day, which occurs on the last Monday of every May, honors all U.S. military personnel killed in wars. This holiday is both a day of remembrance and a day of barbecues and other activities with family and friends. Whatever your way of observance, if you would like to learn more about this holiday, here are five facts on the history of Memorial Day.
There are different stories about how Memorial Day began and even why the 30th of May was chosen as the date. But here is what is known for sure: In 1868, General John A Logan, the head of GAR (a fraternity of Union Army veterans), established May 30th as Decoration Day, the forerunner of Memorial Day. Logan called it Decoration Day because he wanted people to decorate the graves of Union soldiers with flowers.
Separate Memorial Day for Confederate Soldiers in the South
Because of the Union origins of Decoration Day, much of the South would not celebrate the holiday until after World War I, when the name unofficially changed to Memorial Day and when the holiday’s scope was expanded to include US soldiers killed in any war.
In fact, most Southern States had their own special day of remembrance to honor the Confederate dead. Even today, although all states now celebrate Memorial Day, several Southern States still have a separate day specifically for remembering the Confederate soldiers killed in the Civil War.
Although the holiday eventually became unofficially known as Memorial Day, the government did not officially designate the holiday as Memorial Day until 1967.
Not everyone is happy that Memorial Day falls on the last Monday of May
Before 1971, Memorial Day used to fall on May 30th. But to create a 3-day weekend, the National Holiday Act of 1971 moved the holiday from May 30th to the last Monday of May.
Some people are not happy with this change, stating that as a result, the original meaning and significance of Memorial Day have been lessened.
Moment of Silence at 3:00 P.M.
To help address the concern by some that the holiday was losing its significance, the US Congress passed the National Moment of Remembrance Act in 2000. This Act asks that Americans stop what they are doing at 3:00 P.M. on Memorial Day for a moment of silence, to remember and honor those American soldiers killed in war.
The time of 3:00 P.M. was chosen because, according to CNN, “it’s the time when most Americans are enjoying their freedoms on the national holiday.”