Formerly known as ‘Decoration Day’, Memorial Day is a day celebrated to honour all the fallen soldiers, men and women who served in the military in order to protect the country. This glorious day is celebrated on the last Monday of May every year after it was officially declared by the government of America in the year 1971. Memorial Day in 2018 will be celebrated on 28 May 2018. The traditions of the Memorial Day are both inspiring and bring together people from all over the country to mourn and remember all those who died fighting for them. Families and citizens pay their respects at the national cemeteries and graves of brave soldiers, decorating it with beautiful flowers and the National flag.

When is Memorial Day?

The following are the dates that the Memorial Day has fallen and will fall in the coming years:

  • 2017 – May 29
  • 2018 – May 28
  • 2019 – May 27
  • 2020 – May 25

While Memorial Day is to remember the Martyred soldiers we should not confuse it with Veterans Day which is celebrated on November 11 and honours all the military people who served or serve the country.

A brief history of Memorial Day

Memorial Day which was initially called ‘Decoration Day’ has been a tradition carried out for centuries as our ancestors decorated the graves of their loved ones.

The first official Memorial Day was noted on 30th May 1868 for the soldiers who died during the Civil War where under James Garfield more than 5,000 people decorated the graves of almost 20,000 soldiers and paid their respects.

Only after World War-I did Memorial Day receive its true recognition throughout America. The US was inspired by how the Southern Countries buried and honoured their dead.

The first to ever announce Memorial Day as a holiday was New York in the year 1873 and was later followed by other states and cities.

Poppies as a Symbol of Remembrance

Poppies are associated with Memorial Day since 1915 after Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae following the ‘Second Battle of Ypres’ wrote a poem that talked of the poppy flowers growing on the graves of the soldiers in Flanders. The title of the poem was “In Flanders Fields”.

Inspired by the poem, Miss Moina Michael wore a silk poppy symbol on her coat to an international conference, and many followed after her. After that, the Poppy was adopted as the official symbol of Memorial Day by the National American Legion in 1920.

Traditions of Memorial Day and how it is celebrated by Americans

The concept of Memorial Day is known throughout the world but what exactly happens throughout this auspicious day?

The day begins with families and other people visiting the graves and local veteran cemeteries paying their respects and prayer. Memorial Day parades are held across all cities of the US with the largest ones taking place in the city of Washington, Chicago and New York. This is a very important tradition of Memorial Day and has people flying in from all over the country to watch it.

At exactly 3 pm, every person in America is to stop doing whatever they are doing and observe a minute of silence to honour the soldiers.

The American Flag is half-mast flown until noon to remember all the soldiers who died fighting for the country and afterwards raised fully to show that the living will carry on their legacy and not let their sacrifice go in vain.

At the end of the day, there is also a National Memorial Day Concert hosted by PBS which takes place in the United States Capitol’s lawn where music is played, and homage to the fallen are paid.

Some facts related to Memorial Day

  1. The roots of this tradition come from ancient Greeks and Romans who had days to remember the dead and Waterloo in New York is said to be the place of Memorial Day’s origination
  2. Memorial Day began being a day that was to honour the 620,000 American soldiers who died fighting during the Civil War from 1861 to 1865
  3. Only after 1971 did, the Congress declare the last Monday of every May to be the day when we remember every soldier who died on the battlefield to provide protection and safety to motherland America
  4. In 2000, President Bill Clinton passed the law of ‘The minute of silence’ that is to be followed by all Americans
  5. Other than that, Memorial Day is also celebrated with picnics and gatherings as it also marks the beginning of summer vacations

What can you do on Memorial Day?

  • Spend the day with friends and family. Listen and talk about the sacrifices made by the fallen for the country
  • Visit cemeteries and pay your respects by prayers and garlands of flowers
  • Attend both the concert and parades
  • Visit the families of the fallen and hear them proudly narrate you the stories
  • At the end of the day say a small prayer thanking all the soldiers for the safe lives you lead