I hope you’re enjoying Memorial Day weekend! Many Americans, myself included, use this long weekend as an opportunity to enjoy the nice weather, fire up the grill and spend time with our family and friends. However, there’s more to Memorial Day than an unofficial start to summer — it is a time to honor our brave American soldiers who lost their lives while serving our country.
Scroll down to see my list of 10 interesting facts about Memorial Day and its origins, and please share this post with your family and friends in honor of our heroes!
1. Waterloo, New York is the Birthplace of Memorial Day
In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared Waterloo, New York the birthplace of Memorial Day. May 5, 1866 began the annual tradition of closing businesses for the day in observance of the soldiers who died in the Civil War and decorating the graves of fallen soldiers in the town.
2. Memorial Day Was Originally Known as “Decoration Day”
In the years following the Civil War, many towns across America designated May 30 as a day to decorate the graves of fallen Union and Confederate soldiers with flowers and other meaningful items in remembrance of them. In addition to decorating the graves, picnics were also held on the cemetery grounds, making it an all-day affair. A precursor to the Memorial Day barbeque!
3. Memorial Day Became an Official Federal Holiday in 1971
The Uniform Monday Holiday Act was passed by Congress in 1971, which established that Memorial Day was to be celebrated on the last Monday of May every year, instead of May 30. The Act was done to ensure a three-day weekend for federal employees and includes George Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Labor Day and Columbus Day.
4. Confederate Memorial Day is Still Observed in 9 Southern States
Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia officially set aside a day to honor the Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War. Virginia is the only state to observe Confederate Memorial Day on the same day as the nation’s Memorial Day, the last Monday of May. The observances for the other states occur between January 19, the birthday of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s birthday, and June 3, the birthday of Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America.
5. A Poem Inspired the Tradition of Wearing Poppies in Remembrance
In 1918, teacher and overseas war secretary Miona Michael was so inspired by the famous WWI poem “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae that she vowed to always wear a silk poppy in remembrance of fallen American soldiers. She started selling them with the proceeds benefiting servicemen in need and campaigned for poppies to become an official memorial emblem. In 1921, the American Legion officially adopted the symbol and the tradition has spread to more than 50 countries.
6. The American Flag Flies Half Staff Until Noon, Then Full Staff Until Sunset
The exact date of this tradition is unknown, but it predates the 20th Century. Our nation’s flag is raised to half staff until noon in remembrance of America’s fallen soldiers, and then is raised to full staff to signify hope beyond death and to honor the heroes who are still with us.
7. An Official Minute of Silence Should Be Taken at 3PM
In 2000, Congress passed the “National Moment of Remembrance”, which asks that Americans “voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a Moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to ‘Taps” at 3PM local time on Memorial Day, in an act of national unity.
8. Flags Are Placed on Every Grave in Arlington National Cemetery
On the Thursday before Memorial Day every year since the 1950s, soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Division uphold the tradition of “Flags in”, where they place an American flag on each grave in Arlington National Cemetery within a four hour timespan. There are over 228,000 graves at Arlington National Cemetery and once the flags have been placed, they patrol around the clock through Memorial Day to ensure each flag remains aloft. Each flag is then removed before the cemetery opens on the morning after Memorial Day.
9. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is Honored
Every Memorial Day, the President or Vice President lays a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and delivers a Memorial Day speech to those in attendance. Approximately 5,000 people attend this ceremony each year, which is held in Arlington’s Memorial Amphitheater.
10. More than 38 Million People Travel Over Memorial Day Weekend
AAA predicts that in 2016, over 38 million people will travel 50 miles or more over Memorial Day weekend. That’s 700,000 more travelers as compared to last year and the highest number since 2005!
Whether you’re spending Memorial Day with friends and family, going to a parade or just enjoying your day off, I hope you’ve gained a deeper understanding of this meaningful national holiday. If you have any special Memorial Day traditions, please share them in the comments below and make sure to share this post to honor our heroes! And, if you’re looking to share your American pride year round, don’t forget that The Bradford Exchange Online offers a truly unique variety of patriotic tributes and gifts celebrating this great nation. Thanks for reading!10 Memorial Day Facts You May Not Know by Beth Simon