Many celebrate the long Memorial Day weekend with barbecues and family get-togethers, but Memorial Day is so much more than a chance to kick off the summer months. At its heart, Memorial Day is a day to solemnly honor all men and women who have died in U.S. military service. Read on to learn more about the true meaning of Memorial Day, as well as some interesting Memorial Day facts and Memorial Day history.
When is Memorial Day 2023?
This year, Memorial Day falls on May 29, 2023. Memorial Day is always the last Monday in May.
Memorial Day Meaning and Memorial Day History
Memorial Day commemorates all men and women who have died in U.S. military service. It’s not to be confused with Veterans Day, which celebrates the service of U.S. military veterans, or with Armed Forces Day, which honors men and women currently in service.
Memorial Day began a few years after the Civil War, in 1868. An organization of Union veterans established the holiday, then known as Decoration Day, as a time to decorate the graves of fallen soldiers with flowers. From then until the present day, the solemn holiday has been formally observed at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.
In 2000, Congress passed the National Moment of Remembrance Act, which encourages Americans to observe a moment of silence at 3 p.m. local time to remember those who have died in service.
“I am oppressed with a sense of the impropriety of uttering words on this occasion,” then-Congressman James Garfield said in an 1868 Decoration Day address at Arlington, which still captures the true meaning of Memorial Day today. “If silence is ever golden, it must be here beside the graves of fifteen thousand men, whose lives were more significant than speech, and whose death was a poem, the music of which can never be sung.”
Related: Memorial Day Freebies for Veterans
Memorial Day Facts
Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day.
The holiday began as a way to honor soldiers who died in the Civil War, but the day now honors all U.S. veterans who have sacrificed their lives.
There’s a specific way to display the American flag on Memorial Day, according to the U.S. Flag Code: hoist the flag quickly up to full staff at sunrise, then lower to half-staff until noon, and then return to the top of the staff.
Many veterans, as well as friends and family of veterans, make a pilgrimage to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., over Memorial Day weekend.
In 1971, Memorial Day was established as a federal holiday taking place on the last Monday in May.
Poppies have become a symbol of Memorial Day because they are mentioned in a 1915 poem by Canadian soldier John McCrae, “In Flanders Fields.”
Many Americans mark Memorial Day with an official moment of remembrance at 3 p.m. local time.
During the 3 p.m. moment of remembrance on Memorial Day, Amtrak conductors sound one long whistle in honor of those who have died in service.
Traditionally, American presidents give a Memorial Day speech at Arlington National Cemetery at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
New York was the first state to recognize Memorial Day as an official holiday.
Some Southern states celebrate a Confederate Memorial Day, or Confederate Heroes Day, in late April, remembering the Confederate soldiers who died during the Civil War.
The first Indianapolis 500 race took place on Memorial Day in 1911.
The Lincoln Memorial was dedicated by then-Chief Justice William Taft on Memorial Day in 1922.