May 26, 2008 - Admin

History of the Memorial Day Holiday

Since ancient times, people around the world have been decorating the graves of fallen soldiers and loved ones. American Memorial Day activities date back to the Civil War when the incredible number of 497,832 soldiers were killed in this nation. This powerful devastation was a solemn demand for recognition and remembrance of these fallen soldiers. Women began decorating the graves of both sides, and the New York Times called this activity the “healing touch for the nation.”

Several cities formally began a Memorial Day observance in the time period between 1864 and 1866 and several claim to be the site of the earliest remembrance of this holiday. Those cities include Boalsburg, Pennsylvania; Vicksburg, Mississippi; Waterloo, New York; Carbondale, Illinois; Winchester, Virginia; and Columbus, Mississippi. President Lyndon Johnson formally recognized Waterloo, New York as the official Memorial Day birthplace in 1966.

One of the first official observances of the holiday was issued by a general on May 5, 1868 in which he ordered that flowers and decorations should be strewn on the graves of comrades along with fitting services and testimonials on May 30. He asked that it continue every year and also requested the press to lend their services to call attention to remembering and observing this day in that manner.

Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day, and by 1890 many states, including the District of Columbia had passed their own laws making it a legal holiday on either May 30 or May 31. The congress of the United States passed a law on May 13, 1938 that made Memorial Day, May 30 a legal public holiday across the nation. The observance date of the holiday on the last Monday in May was passed on June 28, 1968 and took effect in 1971.

The White House Commission on Remembrance was created in 1996 which promotes activities appropriate for the holiday, encourages American citizens to participate in a National Moment of Remembrance, and promotes the education of our children about the meaning of the holiday.A National Moment of Remembrance of 3:00 P.M. on the holiday was created by a law that passed on December 28, 2000.

The red poppy tradition that many are familiar with began after World War I, when a few ladies began selling poppies in their efforts to raise funds for families affected by the war. The poem “In Flanders Fields” written by Canadian Colonel John Mcrae in 1915 was the inspiration of this tradition.

Today, cities and communities across the nation continue to remember and observe the holiday with ceremonies that include prayers, speeches, singing “The Star Spangled Banner,” and the playing of “Taps.” It is very fitting that the city of Washington D.C. holds the most elaborate holiday observation with musical tributes performed by the National Symphony Orchestra, the U.S. Army Band and the U. S. Navy Band, an American flag ceremony, a parade and the laying of wreaths during various services.

The laying of the wreath ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers at the Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia is one of the most dramatic ceremonies and remembrances of the history and meaning of the holiday during our modern times.

Author, Shelby Evans. Read more about holidays at:

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