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The History of Memorial Day

Memorial Day means many things: itߴs the beginning of summer for schoolchildren across the US, a three-day weekend for workers, or a day of relaxation and barbecues for families in small-town America. But why do we celebrate Memorial Day? What was it originally meant to memorialize?

Memorial Day started near the end of the Civil War. The towns that were hit hardest by the conflict designated one day during the year to remember those residents that had fallen in battle. Eventually, the Northern towns that practiced this tradition decided to combine their separate days into Decoration Day (only for Union soldiers), and the Southern towns maintained separate memorial days.

The Confederate states refused to celebrate Decoration Day for a few reasons. First, there was much antipathy towards the Union Army in the South due to the recent defeat. Also, very few Union soldiers were buried in Southern graveyards- so it would not have been appropriate for SOuthern states to recognize what was essentially a Union memorial day. The only exception was Columbus, Mississippi, which commemorated both Confederate and Union soldier fallen in battle.

In 1882, the term “Memorial Day” began to gradually replace “Decoration Day”, and became the standard by the end of World War II. In 1968, Congress changed the dates of three holidays to three different Mondays to create three-day weekends. The three holidays were Veteransߴ Day, Presidentsߴ Day, and the recently recognized Memorial Day, which was moved to the last Monday of May.

While Memorial Day was originally meant to recognize casualties of the American Civil War, it now memorializes fallen US soldiers in all wars. Incidentally, many communities in the South celebrate Decoration Day, where flowers and trinkets are placed on the graves of family members. Today, Memorial Day itself is celebrated through parades, gatherings, and a welcome day off from school and work.

Matt S.
Sat, 23 May 2009 01:43:51 +0000

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