The tradition of gracing headstones with American flags grew from the holiday’s origin.
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.
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.
Towns across the country now honor military personnel with services, parades, and fireworks. A national moment of remembrance takes place at 3 p.m. At Arlington National Cemetery, headstones are graced with small American flags.
This day is not to be confused with Veterans Day, which is observed on November 11 to honor military veterans, both alive and dead.
However, confusion abounds anyway, with the weekend marking for many the kickoff of summer, and it is reserved for weekend getaways, picnics, and sales. Searches on “memorial day sales,” “memorial day recipes,” and “memorial day weekend” are just some of the lookups related to the festivities.