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The History of Memorial Day

Flags in front of graves in cemetary on Memorial Day

Graves of fallen service members decorated with flags for Memorial Day

An important holiday is coming up this weekend. Memorial Day is a day to honor service members who died while protecting our freedoms. It also unofficially marks the beginning of summer. Most Americans celebrate by visiting cemeteries or memorials or participating in family gatherings or parades.  But do you know the history of Memorial Day?

The first observation of Memorial Day (originally Decoration Day) was on May 30, 1868. James Garfield spoke at Arlington National Cemetary and thousands of gatherers helped to decorate the graves of fallen Civil War soldiers, both Union and Confederate, with flowers, wreaths, and flags. However, this was only the holiday’s first national recognition. It was actually inspired by smaller local observances that took place in towns across the country in the years after the Civil War.

Fun fact: New York was the first state to make Memorial Day a legal holiday!

Following World War 1, it became known as a day to honor those who perished in any American war and was made a national holiday. In 1971, Congress established that day would be observed on the last Monday of May, solidifying the Memorial Day we celebrate today.