Memorial Day is the unofficial beginning of summer, an American holiday we observe on the last Monday of May each year. The holiday is to remember and honor all the brave men and women who died while serving the United States in the military. Unfortunately, the original reason for Memorial Day has been long forgotten by many. To some, Memorial Day is just a three-day weekend to celebrate the unofficial beginning of summer with friends and food. The retail industry uses Memorial Day as an excuse to offer discounts on merchandise.
Memorial Day began as Decoration Day following the Civil War. The idea was to remember the 620,000 people who died during the Civil War; the deadliest war fought by America. To date, no other war in America’s history, not even the combined deaths of World War I and World War II, equal the losses of American life in the Civil War.
General John A. Logan, the leader of an organization for Northern Civil War veterans, in 1868 called for a nationwide day of remembrance in May. Logan wrote, “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion.” Logan named the day as Decoration Day because it wasn’t an anniversary of any particular battle.
In the late 19th Century workers got only a few holidays. In 1873, New York added Decoration Day as an official state holiday for workers. By 1890, all of the Northern states had made Decoration Day a holiday. (Southern states continued to honor their dead on separate days until after World War I.)
In 1889, Congress declared May 30 a national holiday. However, Memorial Day became the more common name for Decoration Day following World War II. Federal law changed the official name of the holiday to “Memorial Day” in 1967. One year later, in 1968, the date was changed to the last Monday in May. In 1971, Memorial Day was made an official federal holiday.
Celebration or Festivity?
Newspapers in the late 1800s began questioning the way people celebrated and if the original meaning of the day had been forgotten. The New York Times in 1869 wrote how important it was to “keep ever in mind the original purpose” of the day. That was little more decade after the end of the Civil War. The complaint was some seeing more “joy” in Memorial Day than “remembrance.”
President Grover Cleveland made headlines in 1887 for spending Memorial Day fishing instead of honoring the casualties of war. A few years later, in 1896, the New York Tribune wrote the day was being “desecrated” by “thoughtless hilarity and sports and pastimes.” However, the newspaper did go on to say the “real function” of the holiday was to “stimulate patriotism,” which was not mutually exclusive of “patriotic joy.”
Memorial Day Today
Today, we celebrate Memorial Day in our own way. Some may visit cemeteries or memorials, participate in parades, or family gatherings. Others may quietly honor a loved one who gave the ultimate sacrifice in military service for our country. No matter how you choose to celebrate this Memorial Day weekend, even if it’s to purchase a mattress at 25% off, take a moment to remember the freedoms we enjoy today is because brave members of America’s Military fought – and died – for those rights.
This Memorial Day, our thoughts and prayers are with all those who grieve someone who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms. Below, we proudly post a video produced by Hillsdale College in 2016 to honor all the brave individuals serving in the U.S. Military.
This blog was originally posted in 2017.
We repost it today to honor all members of the US Military.