Memorial Day is the first summer holiday in the United States, which many look forward to with anticipation for all the social festivities. It’s a time to get together with families, plan barbecues, have fun outings and more. Let’s look beyond the three-day weekend: What is Memorial Day actually for? Unless you live near a major military cemetery or live in an area with a large number of veterans, it can be easy to overlook why this holiday actually came into being.
Why was Memorial Day established?
Originally set up as Decoration Day, Memorial Day was specifically established to honor the 620,000 dead in the Civil War. It was the first major conflict since the Revolutionary War, and accrued a mind-boggling number of casualties over 4 years. Only about 2/3 that number have died in all major United States conflicts combined since. After World War I, the observance changed to include all fallen service members.
Who celebrated Memorial Day in the beginning?
Both Yankee and Confederate sympathizers celebrated Memorial Day after the Civil War, but they did not observe it on the same day. May 30 was the date set up in 1868 for the United States. The Confederate states, determined to be seen as a separate entity, used a smattering of other dates. Today, some Southern states maintain their separate observance of Memorial Day.
What does Memorial Day commemorate?
As of 2014, Memorial Day commemorates the deaths of over 1.1 million United States service members – the cumulative dead from all major US conflicts. The statistic that isn’t often retold is that nearly half of those casualties were non-battlefield deaths. Other deaths include disease, friendly fire, equipment failure, job hazards and training accidents that occur while service members carry out their duties.
Today, many people in the United States forget the “remembering fallen veterans” aspect of Memorial Day entirely. It’s often celebrated to remember all fallen, or all service members, or just extra time off work.
When is Memorial Day?
The date for Memorial Day has been changed several times. In its last change, Memorial Day became the last Monday in May so it could be a three-day weekend. Between 1868 and 1970, Memorial Day was celebrated on May 30. Several other dates in May have been used for Memorial Day observance, but were not official dates.
Where did Memorial Day start?
Waterloo, New York, is the official birthplace of Memorial Day. By “official birthplace” they mean, of course, that it’s the place that was chosen for Memorial Day attribution, not where it actually started. No one actually knows the first place to celebrate Memorial Day.
As of 2014, there is a push to change Memorial Day back to May 30 for simplicity’s sake, and to take the focus away from simply getting extra time off of work. This is a time to reflect on the freedoms afforded the citizens of the United States, and the human cost of achieving them.