Memorial Day


Sophie Divino

Memorial Day is one of my favorite weekends of the year. It signifies the coming of summer and the long-awaited beach season. When I was younger, I used to love to participate as a Girl Scout in the Memorial Day parade in my town: I would march down the street with big strides and felt that I was of utmost importance. 

All of these memories that I have associated with Memorial Day are great, but they do not truly represent what the day is really about. Memorial Day is just what it sounds like it is- a memorial, or honoring, of the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. It’s important to keep this in mind while barbequing, lounging at the beach, or watching the parade. 

Memorial Day found its roots after the Civil War. The war, which ended in the spring of 1865, claimed more lives than any conflict in U.S. history and required the establishment of the country’s first national cemeteries. Thereafter, many different towns and cities began holding tributes to these soldiers, decorating their graves with flowers and reciting prayers. On May 5, 1868, General John A. Logan, leader of an organization for Northern Civil War veterans, called for a nationwide day of remembrance to take place on May 30th. At this time, the name of the day was not Memorial Day, but Decoration Day, due to the decoration of graves. By 1890 each Northern state had made Decoration Day an official state holiday. Southern states, on the other hand, had (and still have) a separate day called Confederate Memorial Day. The date of this day varies per state. It was not until after World War I that the South even participated in the conventional Memorial Day that we know today. 

Memorial Day used to be every May 30th, but in 1971, the federal government passed a law that established it the last Monday in May in order for workers to have a 3-day weekend. The government also declared the day as a federal holiday. 

Because Memorial Day is considered the unofficial kick-off to summer, some common traditions for Memorial Day are very summer related, including weekend trips, parties, the beach, and barbecues. However, in order to better commemorate fallen soldiers, some Americans visit cemeteries and memorials, and wear a red poppy in remembrance. There are also rituals for the day that many are unaware of: The American flag should be hung at half-staff until noon on Memorial Day, then raised to the top of the staff. Additionally,  since 2000, all Americans are encouraged to pause for a National Moment of Remembrance at 3 p.m. local time.

Memorial Day this year is Monday, May 31st, the last day of the month. Although it is unfortunate that it comes late this year, it is a perfect transition into June. Have fun celebrating the day like it’s a summer weekend, but don’t forget to honor those who had fought so bravely for the security of our country.