What is Memorial Day? History, meaning behind holiday honoring fallen U.S. soldiers

Memorial Day is a federal holiday in the United States that honors members of the military who died while serving our country. However, it wasn't always called Memorial Day, and some are unaware of the history behind the holiday.

As we recognize those who made the ultimate sacrifice on Monday, here's what to know about the important day in May:

What day is Memorial Day on?

Memorial Day falls on the last Monday of May. This year it is on May 27, and future dates for the holiday will each come a day earlier until 2027.

When was the first Memorial Day?

The first observance of Memorial Day was on May 30, 1868, originally known as "Decoration Day."

John A. Logan, a general in the Union Army in the American Civil War, proclaimed the day as Decoration Day, calling on the public to decorate the graves of Union soldiers who died in the Civil War. On the first Decoration Day, General James Garfield gave a speech at the Arlington National Cemetery, where 5,000 participants strewed flowers upon the graves of the dead.

As more states began adopting the holiday, it later turned into a day of remembrance for all members of the U.S. military after the world wars. Congress officially standardized the day as "Memorial Day" in 1971, and changed its observance date to the last Monday of May.

Memorial Day can sometimes be confused with other holidays commemorating members of the U.S. military, like Veterans Day or Armed Forces Day, which is earlier in May.


Memorial Day vs. Veterans Day: What we celebrate in May

The two holidays are crucial for honoring U.S. military personnel but serve distinct purposes.

How is Memorial Day observed?

Many people visit cemeteries and memorials on Memorial Day to mourn those who died in service. Volunteers normally place American flags on the graves of military personnel in national cemeteries.

American flags are usually flown at half-staff on Memorial Day, along with many ceremonies and parades planned each year across the U.S.

Does Memorial Day mark the beginning of summer?

While the holiday isn't the official beginning of summer, most people feel Memorial Day weekend marks the start of the season due to warming weather and students entering summer break.

Additionally, there are many outdoor events planned around the three-day weekend, with several happening in the Pacific Northwest.


How to spend Memorial Day weekend in Seattle

From cultural festivals to concerts to outdoor adventures, there's an exciting lineup of Seattle events to celebrate Memorial Day weekend

Memorial Day weekend is also a popular time for travel, with many visiting friends and family. Airports have become increasingly busy around the holiday, so if you plan on catching a flight, be sure to arrive early.


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