A Little History on Memorial DayMemorial Day, and the weekend leading up to it, is considered to be the unofficial start of summer. The day is typically observed on the last Monday of May, and is dedicated as a way to honor those men and women who died while serving in the United States military. Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, first began in the years that followed the Civil War. It officially became a federal holiday in 1971. To date, many Americans observe Memorial Day by participating in parades, having family gatherings, or spending time with friends at a barbque. By the time the Civil War ended in 1865, there were more casualties than any conflict in the history of the United States. Because of this, national cemeteries around the country needed to be established. Americans around the nation then began holding memorials to fallen soldiers by laying flowers at their graves and reciting prayers in their honor.
In 1966, the federal government officially declared Waterloo, New York as the birthplace of Memorial Day. This location was chosen because, ever since May 5, 1866, townspeople held community-wide events where local businesses temporarily closed and residents decorated the graves of fallen soldiers with flags and flowers. It was on May 5, 1868, that General John A. Logan, the leader of the Northern Civil War Veterans, called for a national day of remembrance to honor all fallen soldiers. He called the day Decoration Day, and selected May 30 because it didn’t fall on the anniversary of any battles. While Memorial Day originally paid homage to those who lost their lives in the Civil War, after World War I, the holiday eventually evolved to honor all American service members who lost their lives in all wars. While Memorial Day was always observed on May 30, in 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which relegated Memorial Day to the final Monday in May so that a three-day weekend could be instituted for federal employees. This change officially went into effect in 1971, when Memorial Day was also declared a federal holiday. While there are many different traditions that people celebrate across the United States on Memorial Day, one popular and long-standing one has been the incorporation of military personnel and veterans into local and national parades, with the largest Memorial Day parades being held in New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.