Memorial Day is a federal holiday that we celebrate on the last Monday of May to honor those who gave their lives in service to our country. With Memorial Day 2014 just days away, it is important to remember the meaning and history of the holiday and to make a new commitment to celebrate it with the respect and reverence befitting a day meant to pay tribute to American heroes.
Memorial Day, known as Decoration Day until 1967, began at the end of the Civil War. A few communities throughout the country began to hold ceremonies to recognize fallen soldiers by placing flowers on their graves, saying prayers and singing. For many years there was much dispute over the birthplace of Memorial Day, but in 1966, President Lyndon Johnson named Waterloo, New York the official birthplace (www.thepioneerwoman.com, Interesting Things about Memorial Day, 2010).
Most states originally celebrated Memorial Day on May 30th and today, some Southern states still hold their own celebrations for Confederate soldiers on various dates in the spring. When Congress declared Memorial Day a federal holiday in 1971, it was also decided that it would be observed on the last Monday of May. Southern states did not recognize the holiday until after World War I, when it was determined that soldiers from any American war would be honored (www.va.gov, Memorial Day History, 2014).
In 1915, a school teacher from Georgia named Moina Michael began a movement to establish red Poppies as the symbol of Memorial Day celebrations (www.mentalfloss.com, 10 Things to Remember About Memorial Day, 2011). She began making artificial poppies and selling them to benefit various veteran’s organizations. Today, red poppies are a universal symbol of Memorial Day and sales proceeds benefit the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
In an effort to signify the importance of Memorial Day, Congress enacted “The National Moment of Remembrance Act” in December of 2010. This act encourages all Americans to pause for a moment of silence at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day, to honor those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for the freedoms that all Americans enjoy. The White House Commission on The National Moment of Remembrance has the sole purpose of ensuring that Americans never forget the brave men and women who died in service to the United States of America. On this Memorial Day 2014, please take a minute out of your festivities to remember why we celebrate the last Monday in May and honor the courage of the soldiers who made our celebrations possible.