This coming Monday, May 29th is Memorial Day. While many Americans know it chiefly as the day for BBQ’s, parades, and a long weekend, the history is far more poignant and important. In this article, we’ll be taking a peek at the history of Memorial Day and sharing some ways you can get involved and celebrate.
What is Memorial Day? 🤔
Memorial Day honors US military personnel that have died while serving in the Armed Forces. It encompasses all American wars, and also honors persons still in the service and veterans. It’s one small way to repay the sacrifices they’ve made for us. Memorial Day is always on the last Monday in May.
How Did it Start? 🦅
While the origins of this holiday are (say it with us!) a little murky, we can pin point a few key predecessors. Memorial Day was originally Decoration Day and was first held on May 30th, 1868. It began as a way to commemorate Civil War soldiers, with Congressman and former Union General James Garfield giving a speech at Arlington National Cemetery. Afterward, 5,000 participants decorated the graves of more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers.
But it was far from the first. Many communities had their own Decoration Days throughout the Civil War, where they’d honor their own fallen soldiers. In May 1865, formerly enslaved people gathered in Charleston, SC to give fallen Union Soldiers a proper burial.
In 1873, Memorial Day was designated a legal (state-wide recognized) holiday by New York, with several other states following suit in the next decades. After World War I, the holiday recognized everyone who died in American wars and became a more widely established holiday in the US. In 1971, Congress approved it as a federal holiday.
What Can I Do to Celebrate? 🎆
Most people will celebrate with a BBQ or by enjoying the first days of summer. So long as you’re remembering the people that have served our country, it doesn’t seem like there’s a wrong way to spend your day. But we have some ideas for those of you looking to really make an impact or get into the meaning of the holiday.
Take some little American flags or some flowers out to a cemetery in your area and place them on the graves of local soldiers. Don’t be afraid to add your own if someone’s already beaten you to the punch – the more the better.
Go to a parade
A lot of communities host Memorial Day parades featuring veterans. Head to Google and see if there any in your area.
Look into community service
There may be local organizations looking to do some good this Monday. Maybe they need someone to help hand out food, help build houses, or just sit and talk with a veteran. See what you can do to help!
Visit with a veteran
If you have a loved one that served in the military, take a little time to talk to them. Don’t worry about talking about their time in the service: just having a good time together is plenty.
Take part in the moment of remembrance
Each year, there’s a national moment of remembrance at 3pm local time. This is a minute of silence to honor those that have died in the service, and can be observed from anywhere.
Visit a memorial
Check your area to see if there are any memorials nearby. If so, take some time to walk through the memorial and read the names.
Share your military stories
If you served and feel comfortable, share some of your own military stories. These can be your fun memories, struggles you may have faced returning to civilian life – whatever you feel inspired to share.
Make a donation
If you have the funds, consider making a donation to a veteran’s charity or nonprofit. There are hundreds, each dealing with a different aspect of veteran life. Look for one you resonate with (or even one in your area!) and give a little.
Watch a move or documentary
Once again, head to Google and some research into movies or documentaries that can help you learn more about military service and the life of veteran’s.
Share your experiences or honor those that have served using the hashtags #MemorialDay23 and #MemorialDay. Watchlist: Veterans has a collection of 5 veterans from the Clapper app who often share their stories. Check them out this weekend and spend some time listening to their journeys, too.
If you’d like to read more about Memorial Day, we suggest reading this article from PBS and this article from History.com. You can also read the Encyclopedia Britannica entry, this article from the National Archives, and this document from the Office of Veteran Affairs.