The History of Memorial Day

Maybe you and your family are planning a barbeque for Memorial Day Weekend, or you’re planning to take a short trip out of town. But do you know why Memorial Day is a national holiday?

A few years after the Civil War, Major General John A. Logan determined that a day should be set aside for decorating the graves of the soldiers who died in the conflict. Back then, Decoration Day [known commonly today as Memorial Day] was always celebrated on May 30. That day was supposedly chosen because flowers throughout the U.S. would be in bloom in late spring. General Logan declared that “we should guard [the graves of Civil war soldiers] with sacred vigilance…Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.”

During the late nineteenth century, many communities in both the North and South already placed flowers on the graves of soldiers from the Civil War, but Logan’s proclamation and specific date made the practice even more popular. By the end of World War I, Memorial Day observances honored all soldiers who died in America’s wars.


 In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by Congress and was placed on the last Monday in May, providing a three-day weekend for the public. In recent years the day has been observed with parades that include members of the armed forces. Yet some believe that the focus on travel and family get-togethers during Memorial Day weekend has diminished the original purpose of the day—to honor America’s fallen soldiers. In order to “put the memorial back into Memorial Day”, Congress proposed that a National Moment of Remembrance be observed on that day. All Americans are encouraged to stop whatever they are doing at 3pm for a minute of silence to honor those who gave their lives for their country. President Clinton signed the resolution into law in 2000.

As you enjoy your day off from school, take a moment to remember why Memorial Day was created and think about the sacrifices of our soldiers.


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