Memorial Day: The Last Monday of May

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Memorial Day is always the last Monday in May!
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At the end of May, the last Monday of the month is always dedicated to a special holiday. It is a day when many businesses close and people get a three-day weekend. Since it unofficially marks the beginning of summer for many, it is a long weekend many take trips during. A lot of people do know that the day is ultimately a day meant to honor and memorialize veterans, especially those that lost their lives in battle, but have you ever wondered what the actual history of the day is? Have you ever asked yourself when and where did Memorial Day start? Who started it? Why the last Monday of May rather than a specific date? While some of the specifics are hard to nail down, let us explore these questions together!

Memorial Day first began after the Civil War.

The day back then looked different than it does now and even went by a different name. Originally, Memorial Day was called Decoration Day. This was a day first organized by Civil War General John A. Logan. In 1968, he designated May 30th as a day of remembrance for all the fallen soldiers from the war. The plan was for people to spend the day laying flowers and other decorations on soldiers’ graves. He selected the day of May 30th as it was not the anniversary of any particular battle. Therefore the holiday did not give more priority to those fallen in a particular battle.

This first Decoration Day had 5,000 participants show up at Arlington National Cemetery. Together they decorated 20,000 gravesites of Civil War soldiers. This tradition of going to the graves of those lost and decorating their gravesite started spreading, particularly in the northern states. Decoration Day became an official state holiday for all northern states by 1890. The southern states had their own different days that they designated to memorialize the dead. After World War I, the southern states started celebrating on the same day.

Decoration Day eventually became known as Memorial Day and continued to be a day meant to honor just those lost during the Civil War for several decades.

This changed after World War I. The country found itself suffering from another great loss, so people began honoring fallen soldiers from World War I and continued to expand to honor those who fought and died in World War II, the Vietnam War, and any other war and conflict the United States was involved in. Through much of this, the day continued to be celebrated on May 30th, as it was originally set to be on. However, in 1971, the day was officially changed to be celebrated on the last Monday of May, rather than the specific date, in order to always give federal employees a three-day weekend. The same law that signed this into effect also declared the day a national holiday, which ultimately led to it being a day many get as a three-day weekend.

How everyone celebrates the day now differs. Some continue to honor the day’s origins and spend the day honoring their loved ones lost in war and others use it to take a vacation or have a summer barbecue. No matter how the day is spent, we hope you had a happy and safe Memorial Day!

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