More Than Just a 3-Day Weekend: How Memorial Day Began

Each year on the last Monday in May, businesses throughout the country shut their doors, the U.S. Postal Service halts its mail delivery, and flags are raised in honor of Memorial Day. Most Americans know Memorial Day is a day on which we honor those who have died serving our country, but they don’t exactly know how the holiday started. In this post, we’ll clarify the origin story of Memorial Day as well as how it has evolved since then.

The Origin Legend

While it is unclear how Memorial Day was begun, during the 1860’s commemorations became widespread to memorialize the soldiers of the Civil War, taking on a new cultural significance. Some records show that one of the earliest commemorations occurred in May 1865 when free African-Americans in Charleston, SC, reburied former Union prisoners of war and held a ceremony dedicating the cemetery to them. While that day, and all the other dedications across the country, were meant to honor the men who gave their lives on the battlefield, in 1966, the Federal government declared Waterloo, New York, the official birthplace of Memorial Day.

How Memorial Day Began

In the spring of 1865, the Civil War finally ended after claiming more lives than any other conflict in U.S. history. To commemorate the lives lost in battle, Americans began holding tributes each spring during the late 1860s. They would decorate the graves of those who had died with flowers, leading to the day being referred to as Decoration Day. 

General John A. Logan, leader of an organization of Northern Civil War veterans, designated May 30, 1868, as the first official Decoration Day with a strong speech on the importance of remembering those who had died defending the Union.

“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.

From Decoration Day to Memorial Day

From the original 1868 date, Decoration Day continued to be celebrated on May 30 for decades after its initial observance. It gradually became known as Memorial Day as years passed. 

However, in 1968, 100 years after the original date, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. This established Memorial Day’s official observance on the last Monday in May to create a three-day weekend for federal employees. The change went into effect in 1971 and made Memorial Day as a federal holiday.

Memorial Day Traditions

Today on Memorial Day, Americans across the nation host parades, visit cemeteries and memorials, and wear a red poppy in honor of those fallen in war. But more can be done to remember those who have served and to support our veterans who are still with us.

If you’re looking for more ways to honor our veterans, we can help! At American Veterans Care Connection, we provide a variety of services to the men and women who have defended our nation. We offer home care services such as companionship, meal preparation, laundry, housekeeping, transportation, and more. 

Interested in becoming a veteran home care provider? It’s easier than you think. We understand the Veterans Affairs system can be tough to navigate, which is why we’re here to help with our expertise and experience in home care resources for veterans. AVCC will help align you with veterans looking for the services you offer to ensure our past military members are receiving the care they deserve. Contact us today to learn more!