Memorial Day Throughout the Years

Nitya Wanchoo

Memorial Day is a classic American holiday, celebrated on the last Monday of May, that honors fallen American soldiers. This year, Memorial Day will take place on Monday, May 30. 

This traditional holiday was originally known as Declaration Day. It was first celebrated in the years after the Civil War, which claimed more American lives than any other conflict in U.S. history and led to the nation’s first cemeteries. Some historical records show that a group of formerly enslaved people in South Carolina were the first to start such commemorations. From there, Americans in various areas began to hold springtime tributes for these fallen soldiers by visiting cemeteries and remembering their lives. By 1890, every state celebrated Memorial Day.

In 1966, Waterloo, New York was declared the official birthplace of Memorial Day because it was the first place to officially recognize the holiday, despite multiple countering claims. General John A. Logan, who was the leader of an organization for Northern Civil War veterans, was the one to call for a nationwide day of remembrance.

The day of honor was initially chosen as May 30 because it wasn’t the anniversary of any specific battle. From 1868 to 1970, this was the case, but the Uniform Monday Holiday Act permanently moved Memorial Day, Labor Day, Washington’s Birthday, and Colombus Day to Monday in order to create a convenient three-day weekend.

 This act did not go through without opposition, as both the Veterans of Foreign Wars and Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War organizations advocated for the original date.

Later, in 2000, Congress passed the National Moment of Remembrance Act. This act requested that people stop at 3:00 PM local time to remember the fallen veterans. It is asked that at this time, a minute is observed either in silence or while listening to ‘Taps.’ Another government-mandated tradition for Memorial Day is that the flag of the United States is briskly raised to the top of the staff in the morning and then lowered to the half-staff position where it remains until noon. After that, it is to be raised back to the top for the rest of the day. 

Today, Memorial Day is celebrated a little differently. It now—unofficially—marks the beginning of the summer season. Many people throw parties, have barbecues, and take weekend trips. Large parades take place in cities like Chicago, New York, and Washington D.C., and there’s even a National Memorial Day Concert on the West Lawn of the United States Capitol. It is broadcasted on PBS and NPR, and those that died serving the U.S. are honored. Many also wear a red poppy in remembrance of those who have perished- a tradition that began with a World War I poem. Others visit the graves of lost loved ones and pay tribute by leaving flowers and an American flag.

All of these traditions allow for Memorial Day to be properly celebrated, as citizens honor and give thanks to those that lost their lives for the greater good of this nation.