Summer doesn't officially start until June 21, but most people consider Memorial Day to be the start of the summer season. Many families heated up the grill, spent time outside or took in a big blockbuster movie. But Memorial Day has the word "memorial" in it for a reason. As we welcome everyone back from a long holiday weekend, we pause to consider the true meaning of Memorial Day and why it’s so important.
Memorial Day first began as a holiday called Decoration Day, where graves of soldiers were decorated with wreaths, flowers and flags. This day of remembrance to honor those who died in service — started after so many lives were lost in the Civil War — was proclaimed a holiday by Gen. John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic, made up of former Union soldiers, on May 30, 1868.
It was during the very first Decoration Day in 1868, where 5,000 people came to commemorate the 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried at the Arlington National Cemetery, that then-Ohio Congressman James Garfield said, “We do not know one promise these men made, one pledge they gave, one word they spoke; but we do know they summed up and perfected, by one supreme act, the highest virtues of men and citizens. For love of country they accepted death, and thus resolved all doubts, and made immortal their patriotism and their virtue."
The popularity and the importance of what would become Memorial Day soon spread through the North and South following the Civil War. As World War II came around, the holiday became part of the nation’s identity during wartime. Memorial Day was officially named a U.S. holiday in 1967. And in 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Holiday Act that marked Memorial Day as the last Monday in May to give all of us a celebratory three-day weekend before summer begins.
Once kids learn the history of Memorial Day, remind them there are still American soldiers stationed around the world. This can be an annual discussion that helps everyone – kids and parents – remember the true meaning of this important holiday. Memorial day is so much better when we realize that our barbecue meal tastes like sweet freedom!
We hope everyone had a wonderful Memorial Day weekend!