Monday, May 25th marks the 152nd Memorial Day observation in the United States. Observed on the last Monday of every May, this federal holiday honors military personnel who died while serving in the Armed Services.

Memorial Day weekend has also become known as the unofficial start of summer and a huge retail shopping event. But rather than talking about selling opportunities, we wanted to focus more on the origins of this important holiday.

The History of Memorial Day

The first Memorial Day observation was held in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. on May 30, 1868. It was originally called Decoration Day and was meant to honor Union and Confederate soldiers who died during the Civil War. Later, the holiday was expanded to include fallen soldiers from all US wars.

For over a century, Memorial Day was observed on May 30th. The Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1971 shifted the observance to the last Monday in May.

Union Army General John Alexander Logan issued a special order in 1868 to celebrate the fallen. He stated it was “for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land.”

New York was the first state to designate Memorial Day a legal holiday in 1873. Most northern states had followed suit by the 1890s, with the southern states adopting it after World War I.

How We Observe and Celebrate

Putting the more recent consumerism opportunities aside, Memorial Day at its core is meant to be a day of gratitude, introspection, mourning, and yes, even celebration. However, it’s a bit misleading to say that the deaths of millions of soldiers is something to be “celebrated”. Rather, we attend parades and hold gatherings to celebrate the lives of the fallen and the service they gave to our country. We remember loved ones, visit the graves of veterans, and honor all who have served and continue to serve in the military. 

Changing With the Times

Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, Memorial Day events will be a little different this year. An example of this comes from a motorcyclist group called American Veterans (AMVETS). On Sunday, May 24th the organization will be holding a virtual event called Rolling to Remember. Organizers are asking participants to ride 22 miles through their own community and then track and share their progress using the REVER app. AMVETS chose a distance of 22 miles to bring attention to the average 22 veterans who die by suicide every day. AMVETS also raises awareness for soldiers missing in action and prisoners of war.

However we choose to honor and celebrate the soldiers who gave their lives in service to our country, we hope that everyone this year has a safe Memorial Day weekend. For more information on your community’s Memorial Day events and social distancing guidelines, check your local government websites.