Memorial Day is a Federal holiday, observed on the last Monday of May each year. While its purpose is in reality somewhat sombre, it also unofficially marks the beginning of summer. While often confused with Veterans’ Day, the two holidays are quite different…Veterans’ Day celebrates all who have served, living or not. Memorial Day is an opportunity to celebrate and remember those who died in service of our country.
Originally called Decoration Day, the holiday originated on May 5, 1868, when General John A. Logan, leader of an organization for Northern Civil War veterans, called for a nationwide day of remembrance later that month. “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, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land,” he proclaimed. He chose the date because it was not tied to any specific battle or wartime event.
For decades, Memorial Day continued to be observed on May 30, the date Logan had selected. But in 1968 Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May in order to create a three-day weekend for federal employees; the change went into effect in 1971. The same law also declared Memorial Day a federal holiday.
Flowers have been an important part of the Memorial Day traditions since the holiday began. In addition to the “strewing of flowers” cited in Logan’s proclamation, communities and individuals decorate both the graves of and monuments to fallen soldiers with wreathes, bouquets and other floral décor. Since World War I, it has also been traditional to wear a red poppy in one’s lapel on Memorial Day, in recognition of fallen soldiers as memorialized in the poem “In Flanders Field” by John McCrae.
So on Monday, May 31, please…as you may be outside with the family, having a barbecue to kick off summer…please take a moment to think about those who died, those who “gave all”, to provide you with that privilege and maybe, just maybe, lay a wreath or some flowers in your garden, in a cemetery or on a monument , or wear a red poppy to remember the true meaning of the holiday.Request a Consultation