Every year, Americans across the country celebrate Memorial Day. Yet, the meaning of the holiday remains lost on many people. Memorial Day is not about taking an extra day off from work or finally going on that trip you’ve been planning since November. It is about honoring the military men and women who sacrificed their lives for the good of the nation.
What Is Memorial Day?
Memorial Day, which stemmed from an idea from General John Logan, began as a way to honor the fallen soldiers of the Civil War. Initially called Decoration Day, the first celebration took place on May 30, 1868, at Arlington National Cemetery. About 5,000 people laid flowers on the graves of over 20,000 military personnel that day.
After World War I, Decoration Day then began to honor all veterans who perished in any American war. In 1971, with the passing of the act to declare it a national holiday, the name was officially changed to Memorial Day.
Today, Memorial Day in the U.S. is a federal holiday. It is a day set aside to honor and mourn the veterans who gave their lives in service of the United States Armed Forces. It differs from Veterans Day, which honors all veterans.
When Is Memorial Day?
Initially, Memorial Day occurred every 30th of May from its first celebration in 1868 until 1970. In 1971, President Lyndon B. Johnson moved the holiday from May 30 to the last Monday in May. The decision served to give families more time together and is one of the holidays affected by the Uniform Monday Holiday Act.
Why Should You Celebrate Memorial Day?
While Memorial Day primarily involves military personnel, that does not mean it has no effect on individual Americans. The holiday is all about honoring fallen veterans who gave their lives in service to the nation. Without these brave soldiers, the United States would not be what it is today. Because of these military men and women, we can enjoy freedom, safety, and security.
By understanding what Memorial Day means, you can develop a deeper appreciation for all those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. It also gives you some perspective on life and its value, seeing as many soldiers died protecting it. Memorial Day should serve as a commemoration and a salute to our fallen heroes’ courage, dedication, and patriotism.
How Do You Celebrate Memorial Day?
While Americans enjoy a three-day weekend over the holiday, it is important to participate in a Memorial Day activity to show gratitude, no matter how small. Here are some of the ways you can celebrate Memorial Day.
1. Wear Poppies
One of the simplest ways to honor fallen veterans is by wearing Memorial Day poppies. This tradition began from a 1915 poem by John McCrae called “In Flanders Fields.” The poem paints a picture of red poppies among grave markers. This inspired Moina Michael and Anna E. Guerin to sell artificial red poppies to raise funds for children affected by the war. Today, Americans wear red poppy pins on their shirt to show their respect for the fallen veterans.
2. Participate in the National Moment of Remembrance
The National Moment of Remembrance is exactly what it sounds like. President Bill Clinton signed into law in 2000, encouraging all Americans to pause in a minute of silence at 3 p.m. local time every Memorial Day. This observation is meant to honor and commemorate the veterans who gave their lives in service to the nation. All it takes is a minute of your time and yet, it holds a profound meaning.
3. Display the American Flag
Many Americans fly the American flag year-round. If you’re not one of them, at least consider displaying the flag on Memorial Day. According to federal guidelines, you should fly the American flag on Memorial Day at half-staff until noon. After that, you should raise the flag full-staff until sundown.
4. Watch the National Memorial Day Parade
The National Memorial Day Parade takes place every year on the same day as the holiday. You can attend the parade in person along Constitution Avenue in Washington, DC. You can watch the parade live or on television if you can’t make it. The parade will air on ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, and CW. Alternatively, you can stream the parade online through the American Veterans Center’s YouTube and Facebook pages.
5. Visit a Local Veterans’ Cemetery
Memorial Day is about honoring fallen veterans, so visiting a local veterans’ cemetery is a good way to celebrate it. You can find a cemetery online if you don’t know where to go. You’ll find that some of the graves are clean and decorated, but others are poorly maintained or bare. Do your part by decorating those graves with flowers or cleaning them.
6. Celebrate With Family
Memorial Day is when the weather begins to warm up, signifying the unofficial start of the summer. Schools and universities also go on summer break shortly after. As such, Memorial Day weekend is a good time to celebrate with the whole family.
Bring your parents or kids to a local veterans cemetery or watch the parade together. You can also use this time to educate your kids on the importance of the holiday. For a cozy night in, consider snuggling on the couch while watching some kid-friendly movies that match the theme. “National Treasure” and “Valiant” are both good choices.
While Memorial Day does welcome the summer season, don’t just spend the weekend going to pool parties or getaways. Memorial Day is a time for remembrance and honor. Make sure to do at least one of the activities listed above to show your gratitude and respect.
Memorial Day carries a significant meaning that dates all the way back to the Civil War. American soldiers fought bravely and hard to protect the freedom of the nation. Thus, it is important to commemorate the lives and contributions of those who made a heroic sacrifice. It is the least we can do to honor them.
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