By Last Updated: May 27th, 2022

What Memorial Day Is Really All About

When you think of Memorial Day, you probably envision barbecues, relaxing by the pool, and generally just having a good time with family and friends to celebrate the unofficial kick-off for the summer season. On the other hand, you might also think about Memorial Day as a time to pay your respects to veterans who have served in the armed forces. While both of these thoughts might be close to accurate, they don’t truly embody what Memorial Day is all about. Memorial Day is a federal holiday during which we pay our respects to those military men and women who gave their lives in service to our country.

History of Memorial Day

The idea of commemorating those we’ve lost and having a memorial celebration for them isn’t something new. As far back as 431 B.C., soldiers who perished during the Peloponnesian War were honored with what might have been the first public memorial event in which Greek statesman, Pericles, gave a speech in their honor. Soon, ancient Greeks and Romans held annual celebrations commemorating the deceased, and eventually, following the Civil War, freed enslaved peoples and others came together to honor and bury the Union troops by singing songs and presenting flowers. There’s also a claim that General John Logan had the idea to honor fallen soldiers from the Civil War. In fact, no one is exactly sure about the origins of Memorial Day, as many towns, including Charleston, S.C., claim to be the birthplace of the holiday. But, for whatever reason, the post-Civil War era was when many people started coming together to honor the dead.

At first, it was a holiday to commemorate those who fought and died in the Civil War, but after World War I, Memorial Day was expanded to include those who fought and died in any American war.

Original Memorial Day Name and Date

In the United States, Memorial Day wasn’t always on the last Monday of the month of May, nor was it always called Memorial Day. During its first onservance in 1868, it was called Decoration Day, and from 1868 to 1970, Decoration Day was observed on May 30. In 1971, the name was changed to Memorial Day and the new date was solidified—the final Monday in May. Today, Memorial Day not only has its place on the calendar, but it also has its own specific time of observation;. in 2000, the National Moment of Remembrance Act passed encouraging Americans on Memorial Day to pause at 3 p.m. to honor those who lost their lives in service to their country.

American flags waving in a los angeles cemetery

What to Say Instead of “Happy Memorial Day!”

You will certainly encounter people who will say “Happy Memorial Day!” to you over the course of the holiday weekend. It is important, however, to remember that this is not an appropriate phrase, considering that the holiday is dedicated to honori those who gave their life in the name of their country. Saying “Happy Memorial Day!” is the equivalent of saying, “Happy Funeral!” at a celebration of life or funeral service. Somber occasions and remembrances require thoughtfulness and consideration for lives lost, and the same goes for Memorial Day.

How Memorial Day Has Changed

Memorial Day has evolved significantly in the more than 150 years of its existence, including a change in dates observed and even what it is called. Whatever you do to celebrate Memorial Day, whether it’s with a picnic or enjoying time with family and friends, take a moment that day to honor those who sacrificed their lives so that we could have the freedom to celebrate. Because Memorial Day isn’t really about the unofficial kick-off to summer or saluting veterans in the street; it’s about remembering those military men and women who gave their lives so bravely so that we could live so freely.

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