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Memorial day weekend is here and now is the time for people to remember the fallen soldiers who died serving America. It was originally called Decoration Day derived from the early tradition of decorating graves with flowers, flags, and wreaths. The holiday was first widely observed on May 30, 1868, to commemorate the sacrifices the Civil War soldiers made.
Former Union Gen. and sitting Ohio Congressman James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, during that first national commemoration of Memorial Day. After the speech 5,000 participants helped to decorate the graves of the more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers who were buried there.
The first state to designate Memorial Day as a legal holiday was New York in 1873. Many communities, cities, and several states observed the holiday by the late 1800s.
Memorial Day became a time to honor all of America’s fallen soldiers after World War I ended. By that time it had been widely established as a national holiday throughout the country.
Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act in 1971. This established Memorial Day to be observed on the last Monday of the month of May.
Every year a small American flag is placed on each of the graves in the Arlington National Cemetery.
It is tradition for the President or Vice President to lay a wreath at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Generally, around 5,000 individuals attend this ceremony annually.
The holiday falls on May 30 this year.
Every year at 3 p.m. local time the national moment of remembrance takes place. No one knows exactly how this tradition came about. It is possible that it may have been independently initiated by numerous different communities.
Memorial Day is also a time when people throw barbeques, go on vacation, and celebrate the unofficial mark of the beginning of summer. Many people use the holiday to gather around loved ones and visit their fallen soldier’s grave.
Written by Sheena Robertson
History: Memorial Day
PBS: THE HISTORY OF MEMORIAL DAY
Library of Congress: Today in History – May 30