The meaning of Memorial Day

Officially, Memorial Day, observed on the last Monday of May (this year it’s May 30), honors the war dead. Unofficially, the day honors the start of summer. (More on that in a moment.)

The upcoming three-day weekend has prompted searches on Yahoo! for “when is memorial day,” “what is memorial day,” and “memorial day history.” The day was originally known as “Decoration Day” because the day was dedicated to the Civil War dead, when mourners would decorate gravesites as a remembrance.

The holiday was first widely observed on May 30, 1868, when 5,000 people helped decorate the gravesites of 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried at Arlington National Cemetery. (Some parts of the South still remember members of the Confederate Army with Confederate Memorial Day.)

After World War I, the observances were widened to honor the fallen from all American wars–and in 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday.

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