You feel the wave of patriotism sweep over the nation each year. You hear the parades crossing through the streets and see the American flags held high in celebration. The traditions and meaning of Memorial Day are felt across the nation, but what do you know about this day’s origins? Let’s take a step back in time, and take a look at some lesser-known facts surrounding this national holiday.
1. Memorial Day was originally called “Decoration Day”
While many assume this holiday always carried the same title, this is not the case. The holiday was initially referred to as Decoration Day. This name selection tied in with the practice of decorating soldiers’ graves with flowers to honor their memory on this day. The name of the holiday was changed to Memorial Day at the turn of the century, but many older Americans continue to refer to the holiday by its original name.
2. Why honor soldiers in May? Because flowers are in full bloom
It is believed that General John A. Logan had a good reason to choose May 30th as the day to honor fallen Civil War soldiers. The theory is that he selected this day as flowers were expected to be in full bloom around this time. Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday in 1971, and it was placed on the last Monday in May.
3. The same amount of people come out to the ceremony every year
In the nation’s first observance of this holiday, over 5,000 people gathered at Arlington National Cemetery, the resting place of over 14,000 soldiers. Interestingly enough, this is just about equal to the number of people who gather at the cemetery’s present day ceremony. The crowd size isn’t the only factor that has remained consistent over the years. The tradition of placing flowers and flags on the resting places of soldiers has continued as a way for Americans to honor them.
4. The real birthplace is...
The debate raged on for over years, but only one city earned the title “birthplace” of Memorial Day, and the winner is…Waterloo, New York. In 1966, Congress and President Lyndon Johnson bestowed this honor upon the city, recognizing the ceremony they held in 1966 to honor Civil War veterans. The city closed its businesses on this day and placed flowers and flags on the graves of soldiers.
5. Southern states celebrate Memorial Day a little differently
Although recognized as a national holiday, some Southern states have organized memorial celebrations specifically commemorating Confederate soldiers. Louisiana, Georgia, and Alabama are just a few of the states that celebrate Confederate Memorial Day. These observances take place between the months of April and June, and like their national counterpart, they often take place on a Monday as well.
While it may have experienced a change in name, the celebrations behind Memorial Day have remained relatively consistent. As you see the flowers spread across soldiers’ graves and American flags hung proudly, it is comforting to know that that some of our nation’s traditions can stay quite the same over the years.
Civil War dead honored on Decoration Day. (n.d.). Retrieved May 21, 2014, from The History Channel
Memorial Day History. (n.d.). Retrieved May 21, 2014, from U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs