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Memorial Day in the USA

Last November I wrote about Armistice Day, 11 November.  Well, the United States has had a Remembrance Day long before Armistice Day.  The American Civil War raged on from 1861 till 1865.  When the war ended, many cities and towns declared a day for their dead soldiers.  On that day, families and friends would go to the grave yard and decorate the graves of the fallen heroes of both sides.  These gatherings were formalized on 30 May 1867, the first official Decoration Day.  It was honored as a day of remembrance for our war dead.

Over the years, Decoration Day became an important day for people in the United States.  After World War I, the day became a day to honor all of our war dead, not just those from the American Civil War.  On a typical Decoration Day, veterans’ organizations will lower their flags to half-staff at sunrise to show respect for the fallen.  They will also hold grave-side ceremonies and parades in their towns.  Volunteers often place American flags on each grave site at national cemeteries.  Politicians will pop up like dandelions to speak to their constituents.  The mood is always somber and respectful.  After the ceremonies, parades and speeches, at the stroke of noon, the flags are returned to full-staff.  Naturally, all but the most essential professions would be off that day.  Likewise, the schools would close.  Families would gather together and have picnics.  Baseball games would be the event of the day.

As early as 1882, Decoration Day was also referred to as Memorial Day, but the name was not changed officially until 1967, and the next year, on 28 June 1968, the U.S. Congress passed the Uniform Holidays Bill, which moved four holidays, including Memorial Day, from their traditional dates to a specified Monday in order to create a convenient three-day weekend. The change moved Memorial Day from its traditional date of 30 May to the last Monday in May. The law took effect at the federal level in 1971.

When the holiday celebration date changed, so did other events that were associated with Memorial Day.  For instance, the running of the Indianapolis 500.  It had always been held on 30 May, but with the change, it was moved to the Sunday before Memorial Day.  Some have said the move to a Monday to form an artificial three-day weekend was wrong.  They even tried to change the date back to 30 May.  Fortunately, they were not successful.

Finally, since the weather in the U.S. is becoming warmer by the end of May, Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of summer.  This year, Memorial Day will be celebrated on Monday, 28 May.

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