Memorial Day reminds us of beach vacations and burgers on the grill. But true to its origin, we use it as an opportunity to honor those who have served our country with honor and respect.
According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, it was originally called Decoration Day, to celebrate veterans who died during the Civil War. Today both the North and the South disagree on where the holiday first originated; many cities lay claim that they were the first. However, both sides agree May was chosen for being a time when flowers would be in bloom.
After much debate, Congress named Waterloo, N.Y., the official birthplace of the holiday. A citywide, formal observance was first held on May 5, 1866.
The first large-scale observance of Decoration Day took place at the Arlington National Cemetery in May 1868. During that ceremony, children placed flowers at the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers, singing hymns and reciting prayers.
Cities all around the country were observing the holiday by the end of the 1800s. Initially celebrated on May 30, the holiday was shifted to the last Monday of the month in 1971.
That same year, Congress declared Memorial Day an official national holiday. No longer was the celebration limited to veterans from the Civil War, but those courageous individuals who have fought and died throughout our nation’s history.
I am sensitive to our Armed Forces members and have great respect for them. Let us all remember those who served and gave all. This is not just another three-day weekend, but one where we are empowered to celebrate freedom because of the sacrifice of others.