Memorial Day: Much More Than a Reason to Cookout

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

If you’re like me, you’ve been counting down the days until the long Memorial Day weekend. Now that it’s here, you probably have some great plans for this three-day weekend: a cookout with family and friends, a trip to the lake or the beach, or perhaps just a little extra rest and relaxation. But before we slather on the sunscreen or fire up the grill, let’s take a few minutes to learn more about Memorial Day, a day of remembering those who paid the ultimate price in the service of our country.

Vintage Memorial DayThe holiday was first widely observed on May 30, 1868 when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. It is thought the date was chosen because by that time of the year flowers would be in bloom all over the country.

In 1873 New York became the first state to officially recognize the holiday. While approximately 25 cities claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day, in 1966 President Lyndon Johnson bestowed that honor to Waterloo, New York because they had been conducting an annual community service regularly since May 5, 1866.

Memorial Day continued to be Civil War-focused until WWI when observances expanded to honor all those who had died in America’s wars. It is different from Veteran’s Day, which honors all veterans living or dead.

In 1971 Memorial Day was declared a national holiday to be celebrated the last Monday in May, thus beginning the tradition of federal three-day holiday weekends.

Memorial Day etiquette is to fly the flag at half-staff until noon, then fully raise it until sunset.

To ensure Americans do not lose sight of the sacrifices soldiers have made, “The National Moment of Remembrance Act” was signed into law in December 2000. On Memorial Day at 3 p.m. local time, Americans are encouraged to pause wherever they are for a minute of silence to remember those who have died in service to the nation.

Many people wear red poppies on Memorial Day to honor the dead. This tradition originates from the 1915 poem “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae.

Some of the biggest Memorial Day parades are in Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C.

How are you celebrating Memorial Day? What are you doing to remember those who have lost their lives defending our country?

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