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Memorial Day

Memorial Day 2018 and 2019

Memorial Day is a federal holiday that is celebrated on the last Monday in May each year to remember those who have died in active military service. The Memorial Day holiday is on 28 May in 2018. The long weekend marks the start of the summer vacation season.

YearDateDayHolidayStates
201828 MayMonMemorial DayNational
201927 MayMonMemorial DayNational

Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day. It was created to honor the soldiers for the Union and Confederate armies who died during the American Civil War. The establishment of a public holiday was meant to unify the celebrations as a national day of remembrance instead of a holiday held separately by the Union and Confederate states.

The holiday became known as Memorial Day by the late 19th century and was expanded to include the deceased veterans of all the wars fought by American forces. Memorial Day became a federal holiday in 1971 and was given the floating date of the last Monday in May.

Memorial Day weekend is three days long for most people since many companies close for the holiday. It is the unofficial beginning of the summer vacation season that lasts until the first Monday in September, which is Labor Day.

Traditions

The U.S. flag is quickly raised to the tops of flagpoles every Memorial Day, then slowly lowered to half-mast, and then raised again to full height at noon. The time at half-mast is meant to honor the million-plus fallen U.S. soldiers who have died for their country over the years. Re-raising the flag is meant to symbolize the resolve of the living to carry on the fight for freedom so that the nation’s heroes will not have died in vain.

It is very common to visit military cemeteries at this time of year to decorate the graves. Small American flags, flowers, and wreathes are commonly placed by the tombstones.

A Memorial Day concert is held annually on the U.S. Capitol Building’s West Lawn. The musical performances are broadcast live around the country on PBS and NPR. Attendance is free, but most watch or listen from at home.

There are literally thousands of Memorial Day parades all across the country in cities small and large. Typically, you will see marching bands, National Guardsmen, other Armed Forces members, and military vehicles from past U.S. wars.

Many wear or put on display red poppies on this day. This tradition grew out of the famous poem by Canadian John McCrae known as “In Flander’s Fields,” which he was inspired to write upon seeing red poppies growing over the graves of World War I soldiers. You may well hear this poem’s opening lines quoted on Memorial Day:

“In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row”

Memorial Day Events

Numerous Memorial Day events are held at Arlington National Cemetery every year. You can see a quarter-million miniature flags decorating the graves in the cemetery. You can also witness the changing of the guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns and attend the official Memorial Day service in the amphitheater.

One old and especially significant Memorial Day parade takes place annually in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and tens of thousands attend. You can also visit the nearby Gettysburg Soldiers National Monument and Cemetery and tour the battlefield.

The National Memorial Day Parade on Constitution Avenue has been the nation’s largest since 2005, with over a quarter-million typically attending. There are whole military units that march by as well as floats and bands, and it is an unforgettable experience.