As Memorial Day weekend approaches, you might be planning a trip to the lake or a laid-back barbecue. But while Memorial Day can be a great excuse for a fun-filled weekend, the holiday represents an important tradition: honoring those who have died in service to our country. Find out more about the history of Memorial Day, and find an event near you to honor the fallen.
The History of Memorial Day
What Inspired Memorial Day?
First, when and how did Memorial Day originate? After World War I, the holiday became an occasion to honor those who died in all of America’s wars. However, the holiday actually originated long before that. The Civil War ended in the spring of 1865, marking the establishment of the country’s first national cemeteries to honor the dead. This prompted Americans across the country to hold annual tributes, usually in the spring. These tributes involved decorating fallen soldiers’ graves with flowers, reciting prayers, and holding other group commemoration events. Eventually, the tradition spread nationwide; then, in 1873, New York became the first state to designate Memorial Day as a legal holiday. Several states followed, and the holiday was born. While Memorial Day became officially recognized nationwide after World War I, it wasn’t until 1971 that Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. This established that Memorial Day was to take place on the last Monday of May every year.
Memorial Day Traditions
The traditions associated with Memorial Day are a strong reflection of the holiday’s solemn roots. On a large scale, cities nationwide host Memorial Day parades each year, often in partnership with military personnel, local police, and veterans’ organizations. But even in small towns, countless Americans visit veterans’ cemeteries and memorials to pay their respects to the fallen. Some people also participate in an interesting tradition that began with a World War I poem: wearing a red poppy in remembrance of veterans who gave their lives in service of their country. On a more casual note, many people regard Memorial Day as the unofficial beginning of summer.
Find an Event Near You
If you’d like to participate in one of the Memorial Day traditions listed above, there are plenty of options no matter where you live. First, if you live in a big city, some of the country’s largest Memorial Day parades take place in Chicago, New York, and Washington, D.C. If you’d like to attend a parade in a smaller city or town, you can browse a website like VetFriends, a veteran connection resource, for information on Memorial Day events near you. Finally, to pay your respects from home, you can watch the National Memorial Day Parade, returning this year. This made-for-television event is not open to the public; instead, it involves footage from nationwide Memorial Day celebrations that you can watch from the comfort of your couch. It’s a great way to remember the important reason behind the three-day weekend.
From the Civil War to a nationwide celebration of our veterans, the history of Memorial Day represents a solemn tradition. As you’re gearing up to celebrate Memorial Day, don’t forget to take some time to pay your respects. As we welcome summer, let’s also remember the individuals who gave their lives for the land of the free.
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