So what do you think of when I say “Memorial Day”? Barbeques? Summer? Family vacations? There’s more than a few us of who are already thinking about our day off from the office. But for those of you who’ve bravely served our country, Memorial Day is a day of honor and remembrance. As you’re gearing up for this year’s Memorial Day weekend, here are 10 fun facts that you probably didn’t know about this patriotic holiday . . .
1. It used to be called Decoration Day. It’s a fact. Since its inception, Memorial Day has been known as a day for honoring fallen comrades by decorating their graves with flowers.
2. Memorial Day IS NOT the same as Veterans Day. Veterans Day, which happens every November 11, commemorates any and all veterans who’ve served in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a holiday for remembering the men and women who’ve died while serving. There’s a big difference, people.
3. Originally Memorial Day honored only the casualties of the Civil War. Way back in 1862, General John A. Logan set aside May 30, 1868—or “Decoration Day”—as a special day of remembrance for those who died in the late rebellion. Apparently he chose the date because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular Civil War battle. It wasn’t until after World War I that the holiday evolved to honor the American military personnel who’ve died in all wars.
4. Waterloo, New York, is considered the official birthplace of Memorial Day. There seems to be some debate on this subject since other cities also boast this title, but in 1966 Congress officially recognized Waterloo as the town where it all started.
5. And speaking of Congress, they’re the ones to thank for your three-day weekend too. Back in 1968 Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act and officially marked Memorial Day as the last Monday in May to give all federal employees a day off. This is the same law that declared Memorial Day a federal holiday.
6. Every Memorial Day, Arlington Cemetery honors the fallen with the “Flags In” tradition. For more than 60 years now, the 3rdS. Infantry Regiment—also known as the Old Guard—places tiny American flags at every single headstone right before Memorial Day weekend. That’s more than 228,000 flags we’re talking about.
7. On Memorial Day, it’s customary to fly the American flag at half-mast only until noon. After 12 p.m., you can raise your flag to the top of the staff until sunset.
8. Red poppies are the official flower of Memorial Day. We owe this tradition to the venerable Moina Michael, who was inspired by John McCrae’s poem “In Flanders Fields.” Ms. Michael was the first person who conceived the tradition of wearing and selling red poppies on Memorial Day to honor those who died serving their country.
9. According to AAA, 36.1 million people traveled at least 50 miles from home on Memorial Day weekend last year. That’s some serious traveling.
10. And most important of all, take note that Memorial Day’s National Moment of Remembrance happens at 3 p.m. local time. No matter where you are this Memorial Day, take a moment out of your schedule to stop whatever you’re doing and remember all the heroes who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice so you can be free to enjoy your day off. It’s the least we can do.
There you have it. Follow my links above to learn even more facts, and if you’re interested, be sure to check out our blog post on 10 fun places to visit in America this summer. Have a great Memorial Day!