A commemoration of American heroes: The origin of Memorial Day
Every year, on the last Monday of May, Americans commemorate the valor and sacrifices of those who have served in the U.S. armed forces. While many have been accustomed to a three-day weekend in late-May for years, not everyone knows of the origin of the commemorative holiday.
The home city (or cities) of Memorial Day
What do Macon Georgia; Richmond, Virginia; and Boalsburg, Pa. all have in common? No, this isn’t the answer to some obscure “Jeopardy!” prompt — all of these locales have claimed to be the birthplace of the now-federal holiday, according to History.com.
Why do so many cities claim to be the home of Memorial Day? Many communities paid tribute to those who had died in the Civil War through their own ceremonies and rituals, although Waterloo, N.Y. would be cited as the official “birthplace” of the holiday, with some arguing the area had a more formalized, widespread celebration.
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The first Decoration Day
It wasn’t until three years after the Civil War ended, though, that the first “Decoration Day” was established, a holiday that would lay the foundation for what would become Memorial Day.
First celebrated on May 30, 1868, Decoration Day was an event in which people would honor those who had perished in the war by decorating their graves with flowers.
There’s debate, though, as to why General John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic, the individual who advocated for the holiday, selected May 30 for the event.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Logan picked that day as that was when that is when “flowers would be in bloom all over the country.” However, History.com notes that “according to legend, Logan chose May 30 because it was a rare day that didn’t fall on the anniversary of a Civil War battle.”
A Monday holiday to honor all veterans
The name “Memorial Day” sprung up in the late 1800s, although the holiday itself was still officially known as Decoration Day, History.com noted. After World War I, ceremonies would expand to commemorate those who had given their lives in all American wars.
While the date for Decoration day first centered around when flowers were in bloom, a government mandate would cement Memorial Day as the last Monday in May in 1968, with the holiday becoming an official nationwide observance in 1971.
The move to the last Monday in May from May 30, however, irked some veterans, who were concerned that the event would mark “the first long weekend of summer and not its intended purpose to honor the nation’s dead,” History.com says.
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What’s the difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day?
Even though Memorial Day and Veterans Day have coexisted for decades, Americans still may be confused as to what distinguishes each particular event.
Simply put, Veterans Day honors the living who have served our country, according to Military.com, while Memorial Day commemorates those who have died in their service.