The other day, a younger friend of mine asked why we celebrate our Veterans twice in one year. When I asked what she meant, her reply was, “Well, we have Veterans Day in November and again in May.” It took me a few minutes to explain to her the difference in the two holidays.
Like so many holidays, the true meaning and reason behind Memorial Day have been lost. Or as it was pointed out to me, not lost, just misdirected.
For many of us, this day marks the start of summer vacation. However, Memorial Day was set aside for us to take time and remember those who died while serving in our country’s armed forces.
Often Memorial Day is confused with Veterans Day which is a day for celebrating the service of all U.S. military veterans, both living and deceased.
Memorial Day first began before the American Civil War in many towns and cities not as a federal holiday, but as an annual cemetery decoration day, as well as a day to celebrate the lives of the men who died while serving in our armed forces. This celebration was usually held on a Sunday in late spring or early summer. The day was also seen as a family reunion as extended family members would gather for a religious service. After the service, families would often tend to the graves of their ancestors by clearing away weeds then placing flowers on the graves. During this time, lunch would be served, often at the Cemetery or on Church grounds, usually in the form of a picnic or pot-luck. By 1888, Decoration Day was observed throughout the country, but not often on the same Sunday. Even from year to year, the day often changed.
Over time Decoration Day slowly became Memorial Day. On June 28, 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act that moved four holidays: Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Columbus Day to a fixed Monday. The Act was designed to give federal workers a three-day weekend. However in 1975, Veterans Day was moved back to its original date of November 11.
I didn’t mean for this to be a history lesson, just a little F.Y.I. I wish each and every one of you a very safe and happy Memorial Day.