Who wouldn’t be excited about the three-day weekend coming up — it’s the unofficial start of summer, right? Barbecues abound, public beaches are opening, and we all have an extra day to relax.
But while you’re taking a bite of that hot dog at your first baseball game of the season, don’t forget why we Americans are able to enjoy these liberties in the first place. Don’t pass up the chance to honor those who fought and died for our country at your local Memorial Day parade — and afterward.
Originally called Decoration Day, Memorial Day is a day of remembrance of those who lost their lives in our nation’s service. The day was first observed on May 30, 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. The date was chosen because late spring would yield more flowers for the graves.
New York was the first state to officially recognize the holiday five years later, and, by 1890, it was recognized by all of the northern states. The South refused to acknowledge Memorial Day back then, remembering its dead on other days until after World War I, when the scope of the holiday broadened from honoring those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring those who died fighting in any war.
Memorial Day is now celebrated in almost every state on the last Monday in May. Congress passed the National Holiday Act in 1971 to ensure a three-day federal holiday weekend for the American workforce.
Not all Americans, of course, thought that was a good idea. To this day, many believe that because of the ever-changing date, the true meaning of the day is lost on many citizens. Congress, they claim, succeeded mostly in making it easier for people to forget why the holiday is observed at all. Indeed, the Veterans of Foreign Wars USA has gone on record stating that “changing the date merely to create three-day weekends has undermined the very meaning of the day. No doubt, this has contributed greatly to the general public’s nonchalant observance of Memorial Day.”