Memorial Day (or less commonly called Decoration Day) is a federal holiday in the United States for remembering and honoring people who have died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. The holiday is currently observed every year on the last Monday of May. Memorial Day was previously observed on May 30 from 1868 to 1970. In 2019, Memorial Day falls on May 27, 2019.
Memorial Day is considered the unofficial start of the summer vacation season in the United States, while Labor Day marks its end on the first Monday of September.
Many people visit cemeteries and memorials on Memorial Day, particularly to honor those who died in military service. Many volunteers place an American flag on each grave in national cemeteries.
Two other days celebrate those who serve or have served in the U.S. military: Veterans Day, which celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans; and Armed Forces Day, a minor U.S. remembrance celebrated earlier in May, specifically honoring those currently serving in the U.S. military.
The history of Memorial Day in the United States is so controversial that it constitutes an area of research. At Columbus [Georgia] State University there is a Center for Memorial Day Research. It, together with the University of Mississippi’s Center for Civil War Research, are excellent starting points for investigating the topic.
1870 Decoration Day parade in St. Paul, Minnesota
The practice of decorating soldiers’ graves with flowers is an ancient custom. Soldiers’ graves were decorated in the U.S. before and during the American Civil War.
Some believe that an annual cemetery decoration practice began before the American Civil War and thus may reflect the real origin of the “memorial day” idea. Annual Decoration Days for particular cemeteries are still held on a Sunday in late spring or early summer in some rural areas of the American South, notably in the mountain areas. In cases involving a family graveyard where remote ancestors, as well as those who died more recently, are buried, this may take on the character of an extended family reunion to which some people travel hundreds of miles. People gather, put flowers on graves, and renew contacts with relatives and others. There often is a religious service and a picnic-like “dinner on the grounds”, the traditional term for a potluck meal at a church.
The United States Marine Band on Memorial Day
Memorial Day endures as a holiday which most businesses observe because it marks the unofficial beginning of summer. The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW) advocated returning to the original date, although the significance of the date is tenuous.
In 2000, Congress passed the National Moment of Remembrance Act, asking people to stop and remember at 3:00 PM.
On Memorial Day, the flag of the United States is raised briskly to the top of the staff and then solemnly lowered to the half-staff position, where it remains only until noon. It is then raised to full-staff for the remainder of the day.
Across the United States, the central event is attending one of the thousands of parades held on Memorial Day in large and small cities. Most of these feature marching bands and an overall military theme with the Active Duty, Reserve, National Guard and Veteran service members participating along with military vehicles from various wars.
(Information from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)