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The story behind one of the U.S.’s favorite holidays: Memorial Day

Memorial Day is right around the corner and soon, everyone will be getting a three-day weekend and time to barbecue. What a small amount of people know, however, is exactly what the holiday is celebrating.

The tradition of Memorial Day started after the American Civil War. The conflict claimed more American lives than any other in U.S. history and established the nation’s first national cemeteries.

By the time the late 1860s rolled around, Americans had started holding springtime tributes to the fallen soldiers of the Civil War. Many people from town would visit the graves of the soldiers, adorn them with flowers and recite prayers.

Although it is not clear exactly where the tradition of Memorial Day came from, the federal government decided to cite Waterloo, New York as the official birthplace of Memorial Day.

Waterloo originally celebrated their Memorial Day on May 5, and they closed businesses and decorated graves just like we do today.

Exactly two years after the first Memorial Day in 1866, the leader of an organization for Northern Civil War veterans, General John A. Logan, called for a national day of remembrance on May 30. He chose this date because it did not mark the anniversary of any battle.

Logan called the day “Decoration Day” after the decoration of graves with flowers, and on the first Decoration Day, General James Garfield made a speech at the Arlington National Cemetery. Later, 5,000 participants would adorn the graves of 20,000 union soldiers that had fallen in the Civil War.

In the years that followed, many Northern states held similar commemorative events for soldiers. By the 1890s, all the Northern states made Decoration Day a state holiday. Southern states, however, refused to honor their fallen soldiers in line with the North until after World War I.

Originally, Memorial Day, as Decoration Day had begun to be called, only honored the soldiers of the Civil War, but as years passed and the United States found itself embroiled in World War I, Memorial Day started to commemorate all fallen soldiers in the history of the U.S.

Memorial Day was held on the same May 30 that it was originally held on up until exactly 100 years after its inception when Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act that established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May in order to create a three-day weekend for federal employees.

The same law declared Memorial Day a national holiday and went into effect in 1971. In 2018, Memorial Day falls on Monday, May 28.

“Memorial Day is when my family opens our pool and invites all of our friends and family over for a party,” said freshman James Marcelo.

These days, people all celebrate Memorial Day differently. Many major cities throughout the United States host fantastic parades. Oftentimes, people will host parties or barbecues on the holiday.

Freshman Emily Cangelosi said, “For Memorial Day, we usually go to our family friend’s house for a barbecue and pool party to celebrate the unofficial start of the summer.”

Many Americans still observe Memorial Day by visiting cemeteries and decorating the graves of their loved ones with flowers.

How do you celebrate Memorial Day?

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