When is Memorial Day?
Memorial Day is a United States federal holiday observed on the last Monday of May.
As this is a Federal holiday, not only will schools and libraries be closed, most federal and state offices will be closed and there will be no mail deliveries on Memorial Day
As Memorial Day always falls on a Monday, this creates a three-day break known as Memorial Day weekend. The Memorial Day weekend is seen as the unofficial start of summer, and as such, it is a popular holiday enjoyed with outdoor events and picnics.
History of Memorial Day
Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in military service for the United States.
In 2012, the New York Times reported that as many as 25 different places claimed to have begun Memorial Day. In 1966 President Lyndon Johnson officially declared Waterloo N.Y. as the birthplace of Memorial Day, where the village held an event on May 5th 1866. It is known that other informal observations took place before that, such as on May 1st 1865 (two weeks before the end of the Civil War), newly freed slaves in Charleston, South Carolina, held a ceremony reburying fallen Union soldiers with a proper burial.
While there is some dispute as to the origin of the day, the first Decoration Day was observed on May 30th 1868, under proclamation by General John A. Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. The first official observation involved placing flowers on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery with Pre-President James Garfield delivering a speech.
Some believe General Logan planned the first Decoration Day for May 30th, because both Northern and Southern states would have flowers in bloom by then, though others say the date was chosen because it didn’t coincide with the anniversary of any battles.
In 1868, about 5,000 people decorated graves at Arlington National Cemetery’s first Memorial Day ceremony. About the same number of people still gather there annually.
By 1890, it was recognized by all of the northern states. The South refused to acknowledge the day, honouring their dead on separate days until after World War I (when the holiday changed from honouring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honouring Americans who died fighting in any war).
Memorial Day was celebrated on May 30th up to 1971 when the National Holiday Act of 1971, designated the last Monday in May to be the Federal holiday.
Since the late 1950s, on the Thursday before Memorial Day, the 1,200 soldiers of the 3rd U.S. Infantry place small American flags at each of the more than 260,000 gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery. They then patrol 24 hours a day during the weekend to ensure that each flag remains standing.
Red poppy flowers are also often placed on crosses near the graves of fallen war heroes. The tradition of the poppy comes from the poem, ‘In Flanders Field’, written in May 1915 by John McCrae after Second Battle of Ypres. The poppy, which bloomed in battlefields during the first world war in Belgium and France, has become a symbol of remembrance and is a key element of the Remembrance Day observations in the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
Since 1998, on the Saturday before the observed day for Memorial Day, the Boys Scouts and Girl Scouts place a candle at each of approximately 15,300 grave sites of soldiers buried at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.
Since 2001, the ‘National Moment of Remembrance Act’ has defined 3pm local time on Memorial Day as the National Moment of Remembrance. A number of organizations throughout the country observe this moment, including Amtrak, whose trains blast their whistles, Major League Baseball and NASCAR.
Each year, the president requests that all governors of the United States direct the flag to be flown at half-staff until noon on Memorial Day on all buildings, grounds and naval vessels. U.S. citizens are also asked to display the flag at half-staff from their homes before noon.
What’s the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day?
Memorial Day is intended to commemorate those who have laid down their lives for U.S. national defence, whereas Veterans Day honours all who have served their country.
Memorial Day – May 30, 2022
Memorial Day on May 30 conjures images of hamburgers, hot dogs, swimming pools, and summertime for many Americans. But the last Monday in May serves, most importantly, as a time to honor those who died while fighting in the U.S. Armed Forces. It’s a holiday steeped in somber American history and tradition. The day actually began as “Decoration Day,” following the Civil War, when mourners placed flowers on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers. Yes, Memorial Day has also come to signify the “unofficial” start of summer, but let’s remember the heroes who made it all possible.
WHEN IS MEMORIAL DAY 2022?
Men and women who’ve served and sacrificed their lives in the U.S. Armed Forces are honored on Memorial Day on May 30.
HISTORY OF MEMORIAL DAY
The Civil War ended in the spring of 1865 when Robert E. Lee surrendered the last major Confederate army to Ulysses S. Grant at the Appomattox Court House on April 9. Over 620,000 soldiers died in the four-year conflict. General John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic (an organization of Union veterans) would eventually select May 30, 1868, as a day to pay tribute to the fallen:
“The 30th of May, 1868, is designated 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 churchyard in the land…”
Logan apparently chose May 30 because flowers would be in bloom all over the country. By the end of the 19th century, Memorial Day ceremonies were being held on May 30 throughout the nation. States passed proclamations, and the Army and Navy adopted rules for proper observance at their facilities.
The crowd attending the first Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery was approximately the same size as those that attend today’s observance — about 5,000 people. Small American flags were placed on each grave — a tradition still followed at many national cemeteries today. In recent years, the custom has grown in many families to decorate the graves of all departed loved ones.
By 1890, each Northern state had made Decoration Day an official holiday. But this was not the case in the South, where states continued to honor their dead on separate days until after the First World War.
The May 30 date held for decades. But, in 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May in order to create a three-day weekend for federal employees. The change took place in 1971. The same law also declared Memorial Day a federal holiday.
MEMORIAL DAY TIMELINE
Women from Pennsylvania place flowers on the graves of fallen soldiers after the Battle of Gettysburg.
Waterloo, New York, begins hosting an annual community service in remembrance of soldiers whose lives were lost.
Major General John A. Logan issues General Order, making the day official.
The organization American Veterans (AMVETS) holds a virtual motorcycle rally in honor of Memorial Day.
TRADITIONS OF THE DAY
Many Americans observe Memorial Day by visiting cemeteries or memorials, holding family gatherings, and participating in parades. It’s the three-day weekend that kicks off the summer season and the time for hanging out at the beach and lakes, and barbecuing with friends and family. But Memorial Day is also the most solemn American holiday — a day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice while defending their nation.
Towns and cities across the country host grand Memorial Day parades every year, often featuring senior veterans and military personnel. Some of the biggest parades take place in New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. Cemeteries and memorials are also visited by Americans, with some citizens wearing or holding red poppies to symbolize those who have fallen in war. This tradition has been around since World War I. Weekend trips and parties are also arranged to balance out the somberness of the day and welcome the summer.
BY THE NUMBERS
620,000 – the number of soldiers who died on both sides of the Civil War.
1868 – the year when President James Garfield delivered a very long speech on Memorial Day.
2500 – the number of motorcyclists who participated in the first Rolling Thunder rally.
$1.5 billion – the number of dollars typically spent on meat and seafood in preparation for Memorial Day weekend.
60% – the percentage of American households who attend or host a barbecue on this day.
1.5 million – the number of people who watch the National Memorial Day Parade.
900,000 – the number of people who gathered for the Rolling Thunder Memorial Day motorcycle rally in 2019.
260,000 – the number of graves at Arlington National Cemetery adorned with flags in 2019.
45 million – the number of men and women who have served in a time of war for the U.S.
3 P.M. – the time of day when a moment of silence is observed by Americans throughout the country on this day.