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Memorial Day

From Academic Kids

Relatives and others traditionally place flags near veterans' headstones on Memorial Day
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Relatives and others traditionally place flags near veterans' headstones on Memorial Day

Memorial Day is a United States public holiday that takes place on the last Monday of May. It was formerly known as Decoration Day. This holiday commemorates U.S. men and women who died in military service for their country. It began first to honor Union soldiers who died during the American Civil War. After World War I, it expanded to include those who died in any war or military action. Today, many Americans use Memorial Day weekend to also honor family members who have passed away. Church services on the Sunday prior to Memorial Day may include a reading of the names of members who have died during the previous 12 months.

Many people observe this holiday by visiting cemeteries and memorials. A National Moment of Remembrance takes place at 3 PM. Another tradition is to fly the U.S. Flag at half-staff from dawn until noon local time.

Memorial Day was originally observed on May 30, and some advocate returning to this fixed date. However, many other Americans enjoy the guaranteed three-day weekend that comes with observing the holiday on a Monday. Memorial Day is popularly viewed as the unofficial beginning of summer in the United States, while Labor Day is considered the unofficial end of the season.

Contents

History

Following the end of the Civil War, many communities set aside a day to mark the end of the war or as a memorial to those who had died. Some of the early cities creating a memorial day include Charleston, South Carolina, Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, Richmond, Virginia, and some two dozen other cities and towns. These observances eventually coalesced around Decoration Day honoring the Union dead and the several Confederate Memorial Days.

"Decoration Day" was proclaimed on May 5, 1868 by General John Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic, and was observed for the first time on May 30 of the same year. The tombs of fallen Union soldiers were decorated in remembrance of this day.

Many of the states of the U.S. South refused to celebrate Decoration Day due to lingering hostility towards the Union Army, which it was commemorating. Many Southern States did not recognize Memorial Day until after World War I, and even after continued to have a separate Confederate Memorial Day, with the date varying from state to state.

The alternative name of "Memorial Day" was first used in 1882, but did not become more common until after World War II, and was not declared the official name by Federal law until 1967.

The official birthplace of Memorial Day is Waterloo, New York. The village was credited with being the birthplace because it had observed the day each year since its first observance, and because it's likely that the friendship of Gen. John Murray, a distinguished citizen of Waterloo, and General Logan, whose order calling for the day to be observed each year helped spread the event nation wide, was a key factor in its growth.

In 1971, President Richard Nixon declared Memorial Day a national holiday to be held on the last Monday in May.

Related holidays

Unsurprisingly given its origin in the American Civil War, Memorial Day is not a holiday outside the US (although it coincides with holidays of different origin in some other countries). In the countries of the Commonwealth, and also in France and Belgium, similar observances are held on or around Remembrance Day, on November 11. This date is marked as Veterans Day (formerly Armistice Day) in the US. The distinction is that Memorial Day honors the U.S. soldiers who died in the wars, while Veterans Day honors those who survived.

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