Memorial Day: History, Traditions and Reasons to Celebrate
Memorial Day usually brings to mind the beginning of summer, a three-day-long weekend, cookouts, grilled hotdogs, shop sales, and fun and frolic. But do you know the true meaning and history behind this holiday?
Join us as we talk about Memorial Day 2022: its history, significance, and traditions.
- When Is Memorial Day in 2022?
- What Is Memorial Day?
- Facts About Memorial Day
- How to Celebrate Memorial Day
- What Is Open on Memorial Day?
When Is Memorial Day in 2022?
Memorial Day 2022 will be observed on Monday, May 30.
What Is Memorial Day?
Memorial Day is a federal holiday observed in the USA.
It was originally observed every 30th of May from 1868 until 1970, before the Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1971 officially changed the date of the holiday to the last Monday of May.
What Is the Meaning of Memorial Day?
On this day, Americans honor the memory of the gallant, brave men and women of the military who died protecting the country while serving in the United States Armed Forces.
History of Memorial Day
The origin and background of Memorial Day go back more than a hundred years. After the Civil War ended and the Confederate soldiers left Charleston, SC, a few formerly enslaved people came together to bury and honor dead Union soldiers.
The First Decoration Day
In 1868, Union General John A. Logan first presented the idea to dedicate May 30 to commemorate the memory of soldiers who fell during the Civil War.
Accordingly, the first celebration was held on May 30, 1868, at Arlington National Cemetery. A crowd of about 5,000 people assembled to decorate the graves of more than 20,000 soldiers.
Many people believe that General Logan held the first Decoration Day on that day because flowers bloom around that time in the Northern and Southern USA states. However, some say he selected that date because it did not coincide with other battle anniversaries.
General Ulysses S. Grant and former Union General James Garfield are some of the officials who presided over the first Memorial Day.
Post-World War I
After World War I, Memorial Day was expanded to remember all the veterans who had passed in any American war. Decoration Day became officially known as Memorial Day in 1971.
That same year, the U.S. Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, declaring the day a national holiday and moving the celebration from May 30 to the last Monday of May to allow families who lived apart to spend more time together.
The first state to declare Memorial Day an official holiday was New York, followed by the other northern states. However, the southern states designated their own Memorial Day dates, which are as follows:
- Texas – January 19;
- Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, and Georgia – April 26;
- North and South Carolina – May 10;
- Louisiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee – June 3.
Why Do We Celebrate Memorial Day?
While many people associate Memorial Day with food, fun, and weekend getaways, this holiday has a deeper meaning. It serves as a day to remember and celebrate the military members who sacrificed their lives to defend our country and its ideals.
Facts About Memorial Day
Here are some cool and interesting facts about Memorial Day:
- Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day.
- As per the National Moment of Remembrance Act passed by Congress in December 2000, all Americans should pause whatever they are doing at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day to dedicate a minute of silence to remember those who died in service to the nation.
- Memorial Day is generally considered the unofficial beginning of summer.
- Although Memorial Day is a holiday, no one says “Happy Memorial Day” as it is a profoundly personal and emotional day for many families who lost loved ones on the battlefield.
- Instead of wishing others a “Happy Memorial Day,” the Code of Support Foundation suggests the alternative greeting, “I wish you a meaningful Memorial Day.”
How to Celebrate Memorial Day
There are many traditional and modern ways to celebrate this important day, such as:
Visit a Local Veterans’ Cemetery
Some Americans who wish to observe Memorial Day in the traditional manner visit the graves of fallen soldiers to pay tribute to them. Many families of veterans clean, maintain, and decorate the graves. People also bring flowers and sprinkle them on graves that haven’t been visited.
Observe the National Moment of Remembrance
The National Moment of Remembrance Act, signed by President Bill Clinton into law in December 2000, encourages all Americans to observe a minute of silence at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day. This way, no matter how people enjoy or spend their holiday, they will remember its significance.
Hang the Flag at Half-Staff
According to the federal guidelines, the national flag should be displayed at half-staff until noon. Post-noon, it should be raised to full-staff until sundown. Americans should follow these guidelines if they plan to hoist the flag on Memorial Day.
Wear Memorial Day Poppies
Many Americans wear poppies on Memorial Day to honor the nation’s war heroes. This Memorial Day tradition is associated with the poem “In Flanders Fields.”
Written by John McCrae in 1915, it had an image of red poppies scattered around cross-shaped grave markers. Inspired by this image, the American humanitarian and professor Moina Michael and French-American teacher Anna E. Guerin began to sell artificial poppies to raise funds for children affected by the war.
Today, people pin a poppy on their clothes to show respect and remembrance.
Play “Taps” or Some Other Patriotic Music
During the Civil War, an American general thought that the bugle for bedtime could use a more melodic tune. So in 1862, he wrote the notes for “Taps.”
Later on, another officer used it for a funeral, fearing that the traditional firing of rifles might sound like an attack. Today, the bugle song “Taps” is among the traditional elements of Memorial Day events. Anyone can play it at home, too.
You can also play any other patriotic music in the background as you enjoy a backyard barbecue with family and friends. Make a playlist of the top Memorial Day songs to play every year.
Do Something for the Armed Forces
One of the best ways to show appreciation toward our soldiers and veterans is to do your bit for the military forces on Memorial Day. You can create personalized cards or collect items that could cheer them up, such as books, candies, and other comforts they might be missing. Compile these items into a thoughtful care package and send it to them through a verified non-profit organization that caters to the needs of troops overseas.
Alternatively, you can donate to causes that are close to their hearts. There are many organizations committed to helping the military. Find an organization that speaks to you, and donate to it every Memorial Day.
Check Out the Library of Congress Civil War Collection
If you are looking for more “silent” ways to observe Memorial Day, you can brush up on your knowledge of the Civil War. After all, it is the origin of Memorial Day. You can visit the Library of Congress Civil War collection. It houses more than a thousand photographs, stereographs, and drawings from that period that can give you valuable insights into the meaning behind the event and a reminder of why we should never forget our country’s heroes.
Take Part in Memorial Day Festivities
Aside from the traditional Memorial Day activities above, people also celebrate the day by sharing quotes on social media, hosting a barbecue by the beach, enjoying a picnic, taking a virtual tour of the nation’s capital, or indulging in shop sales. You can also take part in popular Memorial Day events.
Read more about 17 Ways to Celebrate Memorial Day With Your Family.
Memorial Day Events
Here are some of the Memorial Day events that take place every year:
Arlington National Cemetery Memorial Day Ceremony
The Arlington National Cemetery Memorial Day ceremony will take place at the cemetery’s amphitheater and is free and open to anyone who wishes to participate. The United States president usually delivers an address at the ceremony. Various military and government organizations also hold services and mini-events.
National Memorial Day Parade
Hosted by the American Veterans Center, the National Memorial Day Parade returns this year and will happen at Constitution Avenue in Washington, D.C. It begins at 2 p.m. on May 30, 2022.
National Memorial Day Concert
The National Memorial Day Concert will air on May 29, 2022, at 8 p.m. Eastern Time. Visit the concert website to stream it or check your local listings to watch it on PBS.
National WWI Museum and Memorial
The National WWI Museum and Memorial annual ceremony in Kansas City, MO, will take place from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. on May 30, 2022, and is accessible to the public. The keynote speaker at this year’s event is retired USA Army Lieutenant General Larry R. Jordan. The museum will also host other Memorial Day events and observances during the days leading up to the holiday.
Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund Annual Observance at The Wall
This year, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (VVMF) Annual Observance at The Wall will happen on May 30, 2022, at 1 p.m. Keynote speakers include the 24th Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and retired Air Force Colonel Edward L. Hubbard.
If you wish to attend the ceremony live, you need to register for a seat. You can also attend virtually via the organization’s website or Facebook page.
Memorial Day Recipes
The long Memorial Day weekend is a great time to bond with your family and friends. If you’re planning to host a barbecue party or summer picnic and looking for food ideas, here are a few recipes to try your hand at:
Southern Scalloped Potatoes
Here’s a great recipe that you can make ahead and bring along to a picnic. These cheesy, creamy, comforting Southern scalloped potatoes make an excellent side dish. Enjoy it with grilled lamb, roasted asparagus, and iced tea for a wholesome lunch. It can also go well with honey rolls and meatloaf.
Summer Street Corn Burgers
Summer Street Corn Burgers will surely be a smashing hit at your Memorial Day picnic lunch or backyard party! You can prepare these yummy cheeseburgers stacked with fresh corn and lime mayo in just 30 minutes.
Who doesn’t love a good summer salad? This recipe calls for red onion, wild rocket, tomatoes, broccoli, fruit and nut mix, lemon, olive oil, and seasoning. Once you’ve prepared all the ingredients, simply throw everything together, and you will have a colorful, flavorful salad ready!
Chewy Lemon Oatmeal Cookies
These Chewy Lemon Oatmeal Cookies are easy to carry around and are the perfect ending to a summer picnic. For this recipe, you’ll need lemon zest, oats, oat flour, dates, unsweetened applesauce, apple cider vinegar, walnuts, cocoa powder, vanilla powder, baking soda, and sea salt.
These chewy, flavorful cookies remain moist thanks to the low-and-slow baking technique that allows them to bake through without drying out.
Memorial Day Gift Ideas
Giving Memorial Day gifts is a thoughtful way to show friends and family that you remember the lives of those who passed away in military service. Gifts can also help the loved ones of the departed heal from their grief.
Here are a few Memorial Day gift ideas:
- personalized photo frame;
- memorial ornament;
- a quilt made out of your loved one’s old favorite clothes;
- literature collection;
- wind chimes with photographs of your loved one;
- photo frame wreath;
- DIY photo vase;
- memorial wall;
- home videos;
- charitable donation;
- volunteering at a loved one’s favorite charity.
Memorial Day Movies
anthony Edwards and Tom Cruise, in the 1986 film “Top Gun.” Credit: nytimes.com
Not planning to go out on Memorial Day? Here are some movies to binge-watch at home on Memorial Day:
- Saving Private Ryan (1998);
- Dunkirk (2017);
- Hacksaw Ridge (2016);
- Heartbreak Ridge (1986);
- Apocalypse Now (1979);
- Lone Survivor (2013);
- Top Gun (1986);
- Black Hawk Down (2001);
- The Best Years of Our Lives (1946);
- The Longest Day (1962);
- Platoon (1986);
- Sand Castle (2017);
- Lincoln (2012);
- Memorial Day (2012);
- Pearl Harbor (2001);
- Megan Leavey (2017);
- We Were Soldiers (2002).
What Is Open on Memorial Day?
Most restaurants and shops close on Memorial Day. However, you may find a few open as usual or with adjusted hours. Most department stores remain open, offering attractive sales and promos.
Do Stores Close on Memorial Day?
Grocery stores, convenience stores, and liquor stores are typically closed on Memorial Day. However, some may remain open to the public. Banks, stock markets, post offices, schools, and many private offices are also closed.
What Is the Difference Between Memorial Day and Veterans Day?
Memorial Day and Veterans Day are both celebrated by remembering and honoring the veterans who served the USA. However, there are certain marked differences between them, which we will delve into below:
On Memorial Day, we pay tribute to the men and women who died while serving the USA, particularly those who died on the battlefield or from sustained wounds. Memorial Day essentially memorializes the veterans who sacrificed their lives for their country.
On the other hand, Veterans Day commemorates all the veterans who served the country during wartime and peacetime, whether they died or survived. This day is officially observed on November 11 every year.
Which Event Traditionally Takes Place on Memorial Day Weekend?
The Indianapolis 500 traditionally takes place on Memorial Day weekend. Since its inception in 1911, this automobile race has been held every year at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indiana.
Who Is Generally Considered the Founder of Memorial Day?
Union General John A. Logan is considered the founder of Memorial Day and credited for starting the tradition.
Is Memorial Day a Federal Holiday?
Yes, Memorial Day is a federal holiday. In 1971, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act that declared Memorial Day a federal holiday.
What Was the Original Name of Memorial Day?
Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day. It was officially changed to its current name in 1967 by federal law.
Indeed, there is no holiday like Memorial Day. It is a great time to honor the sacrifices of our country’s fallen heroes while spending time with our families and friends.
What are your thoughts about Memorial Day? Are there any unique traditions that you follow on this day? Do you have fond memories that you associate with Memorial Day? We’d love to hear about them! Go on and share them with us in the comments below.
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