Also referred to as Decoration Day, the Memorial Day is a federal holiday for the remembrance of those who died in the service of the United States of America. Memorial Day was officially declared on May 5 1868 by General John Logan and it is currently observed on the last Monday of May every year. Memorial Day is honored by many Americans today by participating in parades, holding family gatherings, and vising memorials or cemeteries. In fact, the Memorial Day has grown to become one of the most revered and solemn days in America.
Memorial Day – Early Observances
The Civil War which came to an end in the spring of 1865 claimed lives much more than any other conflict in the history of the United States. In fact, after the war, there was a need for the establishment of the first national cemeteries in the country.
Towards the late 1860s, Americans in different cities and towns began holding events that paid tributes to the fallen soldiers, reciting prayers and decorating the graves of these heroes. It was at this time – on the first Decoration Day – that General James Garfield delivered a speech at the Arlington National Cemetery where 5,000 participants in attendance decorated the graves of 20,000 fallen soldiers buried there.
In 1873, New York officially recognized the Memorial Day holiday, making them the first state to do so, and by 1890, all northern states officially recognized this solemn, yet important day. Although the southern states initially refused to recognize the day, preferring to honor their dead on separate days, they finally acknowledged the day after the First World War when the federal holiday changed from a day to honor the fallen soldiers of the Civil War to a day to honor any soldier who died fighting any war.
Today, Memorial Day is now observed in almost every state in the U.S. and the passage of the Congressional National Holiday Act has ensured that there is a three day weekend for federal holidays.
Evolution of the Memorial Day Today
After the passage of the National Moment of Remembrance resolution in December 2000, it was agreed that the American flag would be hung at half-staff on the day until noon, before it is raised to the top of the staff. At 3 p.m. local time, all Americans are encouraged to pause so they can informally and voluntarily observe the Memorial Day in their own way – as a sign of respect for the fallen heroes.