Memorial Day is a federal holiday near and dear to many Americans’ hearts. It’s a day of remembrance, a day to honor and respect the men and women who gave their lives while serving in the military and fighting for our freedom. For many of us, the long weekend is a special time to spend with our family and loved ones. Everyone celebrates this day differently.
Those of as us Curb Appeal and Lewith & Freeman would like to take the time to recognize and honor this holiday by sharing some Memorial Day customs and traditions. Some of these go back to the Civil War, where it all began.
Memorial Day evolved from a 19th-century observance called Decoration Day post-Civil War. The American Civil war was a devastating time in U.S. history. By the time it ended in May 1865, more lives were lost than in any other conflict in U.S. history—some 620,000 soldiers on both sides. So much loss of life required the establishment of the first national cemeteries. Within a few years, people across various towns and cities began paying tribute to all the fallen soldiers. In the spring, the people would decorate the graves with flowers and recite prayers. May 30 became Decoration Day.
On May 5, 1866, Waterloo, New York, won the recognition as the birthplace of Memorial Day. Two years later, on May 5, 1868, Major General John A. Logan issued General Orders No. 11, establishing May 30, 1868 “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.”
In 1967, Memorial Day became the official name, as declared by Federal Law. While Memorial Day had always been celebrated on May 30, in 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, establishing it on the last Monday in May so federal employees could have a three-day weekend.
Cities and towns throughout the U.S. host Memorial Day parades each year. These parades often incorporate military personnel and members of veterans’ organizations. Depending on the community, sometimes live music, food vendors, and extravagant floats are also included.
On this day, the U.S. flag should be flown at half-mast until noon. Flying the POW/MIA flag also honors the prisoners of war and those missing in action.
As was custom in the 1900s, many Americans continue to visit the grave sites of loved ones and ancestors to leave flowers. This is also a day when many people take the opportunity to visit or read up on both national and local memorials across the country.
In 2000, Congress established the Moment of Remembrance which asks Americans, wherever they are at 3 PM local time, to pause in an act of national unity for one minute. It’s meant to remember and honor the fallen at a time when most Americans are enjoying their freedoms.
John McCrea’s 1915 poem “In Flanders Fields” inspired the tradition of wearing red poppies on Memorial Day. The remembrance poppy was promoted by Moina Michael after he pledged to wear silk poppies as an emblem of “keeping the faith with all who died.” This tradition has been adopted by over 50 countries across the globe, including the U.S., England, France, and Australia.
For more information on Memorial Day and how to observe it respectfully, check out the Memorial Day Foundation ‘s website here.
Sarah is a content writer and social media assistant with a BA in literature/creative writing from Wilkes University. When she’s not spending her days at work writing, reading, and drinking coffee, she’s usually at home reading, writing, and drinking coffee. She also devotes a fair amount of time to HGTV, drawing, and doting on her dog. As a creator, Sarah believes in emphasizing personality through design and DIY projects.