Memorial Day History

Memorial Day history is among the most interesting stories of America’s past, though the true meaning of the holiday can be overlooked at times. It was first celebrated on May 30, 1868, and one of the interesting facts about Memorial Day is that it was initially called Decoration Day. It was a day for families and friends to honor the memories of soldiers who had fallen in battle. In the past, many cities and towns have claimed to be the place of origin of Memorial Day, but in all probability, traditions honoring fallen soldiers arose spontaneously in several areas at once. One of the towns that has been honored as the birthplace of Memorial Day is the town of Waterloo, New York, where the first known observance of the holiday was held.

Memorial Day history is a story of both division and reconciliation. After the American Civil War, the tradition was first adopted in the Northern States, and on May 30, 1868, by order of General John Logan, flowers were laid on the graves of both Confederate and Union soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. The tradition of decorating the graves of soldiers led to the holiday being called Decoration Day.

In one of the sad facts about Memorial Day, however, the North and South could not agree on a common date to celebrate their war dead, and the South held the holiday on a different date for many years. Finally, after the devastation of World War I, the nation united on Memorial Day in mourning and commemorating all those who had fallen in war, not only in the Civil War, but also in all American wars. The name Memorial Day became common in the 1880s to refer to the holiday.

After the First World War, one of the most significant traditions of Memorial Day history, the wearing of Memorial Day poppies, came into being. Poppies became famous as a memorial symbol with the publication of John McCrae's poem, "In Flanders Fields." John McCrae was a Canadian doctor and soldier who, during WWII, witnessed the death of a friend, and wrote a poem about the red poppies that grew on the graves of fallen soldiers in Europe. The American professor, Moina Michael, popularized the poppy and vowed to wear one to remember the brave soldiers who gave their lives in war. Since then, artificial Memorial Day poppies are sold every year, with the proceeds going to help veterans in need. Memorial Day poppies are also used as a symbol in Memorial Day parades and other decorations.

In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday, and moved from its original date of May 30 to fall on the last Monday of May. This was done so that Memorial Day would create a three-day weekend. This is, however, one of the most deplored facts about Memorial Day, and many people passionately advocate moving the holiday back to its original date, saying that having Memorial Day fall on a weekend makes people forget the somber theme of the holiday. It is true that for many people, Memorial Day weekend is more about celebrating the start of summer, spending time with the family, and enjoying the parades and fireworks, rather than remembering the dead.

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