Every year on the last Monday in May, Americans observe the Memorial Day holiday. It is a federal holiday that honors the fallen soldiers from wars fought by the USA.
Memorial Day began as a remembrance of soldiers who died in the Civil War. However, since World War I, Memorial Day has been a day of respect for soldiers who died in any conflict protecting the USA.
Historically, many communities had designated a day to appreciate those who were killed in battle. However, Waterloo, New York, is officially recognized as the birthplace of Memorial Day. On May 5, 1866, the townspeople there held solemn ceremonies and decorated soldiers’ graves with flowers.
In 1868, the leader of US military forces made a formal declaration that May 30th would be a day set aside for honoring soldiers who died in service by decorating their graves with flowers. Therefore, the day was named Decoration Day.
Nevertheless, it was not yet an official federal holiday. Instead, individual states could choose to have Decoration Day on May 30th or not. All of the states eventually designated a Decoration Day, but some states chose a different date. It was not until after World War I that most of the states conformed to the May 30th date.
And it wasn’t until 1971 that Decoration Day became a federal holiday. At the same time, the name was changed to Memorial Day, and the date was changed from May 30th to the last Monday in May. That way, federal workers could have a three-day weekend.
Today, Memorial Day is a very big deal. The president or vice-president lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. A small American flag is placed on each soldier’s grave there as well.
A major tradition you will see on Memorial Day is members of veterans organizations collecting donations on street corners and outside shops to help disabled veterans. In return for a donation, you get a small, red poppy made by a disabled vet. These little flowers are worn proudly that day.
At 3:00 p.m. on Memorial Day, there is a national moment of silence to remember and honor the fallen soldiers. There is a national parade in Washington, D.C., and a big concert. In most communities across the nation, soldiers’ graves are decorated with flags or flowers, and there are parades, concerts, fireworks and celebrations on a smaller scale.
Nowadays, retailers use Memorial Day as an opportunity to have big sales. Families and friends gather on that weekend to have barbecues and parties. The Indianapolis 500 car race is held on Memorial Day weekend. It is unofficially regarded as the beginning of summer, and people make the most of the long weekend.
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