What is Memorial Day?
Unlike New Year’s and Christmas, or even Veterans Day, which people worldwide celebrate, Memorial Day is an American holiday. It honours all the people who have lost their lives while serving in the United States military. However, it was not called ‘Memorial Day’ since its start. When it first started right after the Civil War, the holiday was originally called Decoration Day. It started to commemorate the massive number of soldiers who had to lose their lives during the Civil War.
Looking into the History
The United States was devastated by the Civil War. Right after it ended, communities across the country began to hold springtime memorials for honouring the soldiers who gave up their lives during the conflict. People started gathering together to place flags and flowers on their graves and pray. Even though the tributes probably started simultaneously in various communities, the United States government officially announced Waterloo, New York, Memorial Day’s birthplace. It happened in 1966. On the 5th of May, 1866, Waterloo held its first memorial celebration for the martyred soldiers.
Becoming a Nationwide Holiday
General John A. Logan was the one who pushed for a nationwide remembrance day. General Logan led a team of veterans in the Northern Civil War. The 30th of May, 1868, saw the first Decoration Day when more than 5,000 people took to decorating more than 20,000 graves of soldiers buried at the Arlington National Cemetery. As years passed, more wars happened, and this is how the holiday came to be known as Memorial Day. It also went beyond the Civil War’s roots to become a remembrance of all those who died serving in the military. For many years, the holiday continued being celebrated on the 30th of May.
In 1968, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act was passed by Congress. The Act defined Memorial Day as the annual federal holiday to be overserved on the Last Monday of May every year. It took around two years for the law to take effect, and since 1971, Memorial Day has been celebrated on the last Monday of May every year.
The Different Ways of Celebration
There are various forms that Memorial Day takes all across the United States. Different cities conduct parades in honour of the veterans who gave up their lives for the country. These parades are often attended by the members of several veterans’ organizations and the current military personnel. Chicago, New York as well as Washington, D.C., are known for conducting huge parades. A lot of people also visit memorials and cemeteries on this day.
One of the most popular traditions is of using American flags and flowers to decorate the graves of the dead soldiers. As the day has also become linked to an unofficial onset of summers, and many people, get a three-day weekend thanks to this holiday, barbecues, picnics, and family gatherings also take place in large numbers.
The Longest Memorial Day Parades
Since 1868, Doylestown in Pennsylvania has conducted annual Memorial Day parades that the city claims to be the United States’ oldest continuously running. West Virginia’s Grafton has also held a parade in 1868, which is still ongoing. However, the parade held in Rochester of Wisconsin leads the Doylestown’s parade by one year.
The Poppies of Memorial Day
After the Second Battle of Ypres, a physician working for the Canadian Expeditionary Force, named Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, composed the poem ‘In Flanders Fields’ in 1915. The poem’s opening lines refer to the bright fields of poppies that grew amidst the graves of soldiers in Flanders. YWCA worker Moina Michael drew inspiration from this poem and, in 1918, participated in a conference of YWCA Overseas War Secretaries where she wore a silk poppy attached to her coat. She even went on to distribute more than two dozen poppies to others attending the conference. It was in 1920 when the National American Legion adopted the poppy as its official symbol of remembrance. (See What Is The Average Amount Of Workdays In A Month?)
In Music, Literature and Films
If you want to watch a movie revolving around this day of remembrance, you must check out the 2017 movie Logan Lucky starring Channing Tatum and the 2012 movie Memorial Day which is a war film featuring John Cromwell, Jonathan Bennett, and James Cromwell. Memorial Day has also been the theme of various musical pieces. ‘Decoration Day, the symphonic poem by Charles Ives, describes his childhood experiences related to Memorial Day. Charles’ dad’s band used to play ‘Taps’ on a trumpet while leading the way towards the town cemetery. A more buoyant march tune was played while coming back to their town.
The poem is often played along with three other works of Ives revolving around holidays. “Decoration Day” is a beautiful song based on Memorial Day. It was penned by Jason Isbell and released by Drive-By Truckers, an American rock band. The song is a part of their 2003 album, which goes by the same title. Some other poems based on this day include Michael Anania’s ‘Memorial Day’, Francis M. Finch’s ‘The Blue and the Gray’, Joyce Kilmer’s ‘Memorial Day, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s ‘Decoration Day.