Memorial Day, which is celebrated on the last Monday in May, honors service members who have died in military service to the nation. The holiday has roots dating back to the post-Civil War era, when citizens would informally place spring flower memorials on the graves of fallen soldiers.
On May 5, 1866, the town of Waterloo, New York, formalized this ritual and hosted a city-wide “Decoration Day,” encouraging its citizens to create memorials on soldiers’ graves with flags and flowers. A few years later in 1868, Gen. John A. Logan declared that the first-ever national Decoration Day should take place on May 30, as the date was a neutral day for both sides of the Civil War to honor their fallen soldiers.
On May 20, 1868, over 5,000 first-ever National Decoration Day participants decorated the graves of the 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried at Arlington National Cemetery. By the late 1800s, cities and communities across the United States began to observe the day and several states declared it a legal holiday.
Over the next few decades, the day transitioned from being called Decoration Day to its current name of Memorial Day.
In 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May instead of a set calendar day. By 1971, the three-day weekend for federal employees went into full effect.
Today, Memorial Day is often associated with the start of summer, discount sales and cookouts with friends. But you have the power to educate those around you and [take a few moments to pay tribute to the fallen while still enjoying the sunshine and outdoors.