Today we celebrate Memorial Day, which for most of us simply means a day off from school and work. But the history of Memorial Day deserves more respect and attention than a BBQ or beach day. Memorial Day honors men and women who died while serving in the US military. Originally known as Decoration Day, it originated in the years following the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971.
Because the Civil War claimed more lives than any conflict in U.S. history, it required the country to create the first national cemeteries. By the late 1860s Americans had begun holding springtime tributes to these fallen soldiers, decorating their graves with flowers and reciting prayers.
No one knows where this tradition originated, nevertheless, in 1966 the federal government declared Waterloo, New York, the official birthplace of Memorial Day. Waterloo - which had first celebrated the day on May 5, 1866 - was chosen because it hosted an annual event, during which businesses closed and residents decorated the graves of soldiers with flowers and flags.
For decades, Memorial Day was observed on May 30, but in 1968 Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May in order to create a three-day weekend for federal employees. The same law also declared Memorial Day a federal holiday.
So while you enjoy time off and time with family, take a moment to remember, reflect and honor those who fought for your right to do so. In fact, there's a moment of remembrance at 3pm local time every Memorial Day, so why not use that time to pay tribute.