Every year, we look forward to Memorial Day weekend. It’s a time to jump in our cars and head to the beach, picnics, parades, and barbeques. It’s easy to get caught up in the extra day off, the beginning of summer, and the sales. Even we at Rolf’s Import Auto are celebrating with $40 off for veterans of the armed services.
But we started wondering, what are the origins of Memorial Day? When did it become an American holiday and tradition? We did a bit of history research—check it out!
Memorial Day, originally known as Decoration Day, dates back to the Civil War—a war that claimed more American lives than any other conflict to date. In the years following our bloodiest war, towns across America held springtime festivities to honor their fallen soldiers.
General John A. Logan, leader of an organization for Northern Civil War veterans, called for a nationwide day of remembrance—the first to be held on May 30, 1868. He stated “…it is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.”
General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery on the first Decoration Day. On this day, 5,000 participants decorated the graves of the 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried there. Decoration Day was made an official state holiday by all Northern states by 1890. It wasn’t until after World War I that the entirety of the Southern states ended their separate memorial holidays and adopted Decoration Day as well.
World War I was a crucial milestone in the evolution of Memorial Day. As the world’s first major conflict, it set into motion the need to memorialize American casualties of all wars. In 1968, Memorial Day was changed from May 30 to the last Monday in May to give federal employees a three-day weekend.
While the history of Memorial Day is interesting, it pales in comparison to the meaning behind it. It’s to honor the thousands of men and women who have given their lives in service to our country. So as you spend time with family and friends this Memorial Day weekend, reveling in the unofficial beginning of summer, take a moment and say a quick thank you to those who made it possible.