Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Memorial Day is a United States public holiday that takes place on the last Monday of May. It was formerly known as Decoration Day. This holiday commemorates US service men and women who died in military service to their country. It began first to honor Union soldiers who died during the American Civil War. After World War I, it expanded to include those who died in any war or military action. Today, many Americans use Memorial Day weekend to also honor family members who have passed away. Church services on the Sunday prior to Memorial Day may include a reading of the names of members who have died during the previous 12 months.
Many people observe this holiday by visiting cemeteries and memorials. A National Moment of Remembrance takes place at 3 PM. Another tradition is to fly the US Flag at half-staff from dawn until noon local time.
People originally observed Memorial Day on May 30 and many advocate doing so again.
"Decoration Day" was proclaimed on May 5, 1868 by General John Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic, and was observed for the first time on May 30 of the same year. The tombs of fallen Union soldiers were decorated in remembrance of this day.
Many of the states of the U.S. South refused to celebrate Decoration Day due to lingering hostility towards the Union Army, who it was commemorating. Many of the Southern States did not recognize Memorial Day until after World War I, and even after continued to have a separate Confederate Memorial Day, with the date varying from state to state.
The alternative name of "Memorial Day" was first used in the 1882, but did not become more common until after World War II, and was not declared the official name by Federal law until 1967. The official birthplace of Memorial Day is Waterloo, New York. Other places that claim to be the home of Memorial Day include Charleston, South Carolina, Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, Richmond, Virginia, and some two dozen other cities and towns.
Unsurprisingly given its origin in the American Civil War, Memorial Day is not a holiday outside the US (although it coincides with holidays of different origin in some other countries). In the countries of the Commonwealth, and also in France and Belgium, similar observances are held on or around Remembrance Day, on November 11. This date is marked as Veterans Day (formerly Armistice Day) in the US. The distinction is that Memorial Day honors the U.S. soldiers who died in the wars, while Veterans Day honors those who survived.
See also: Confederate Memorial Day; Newfoundland and Labrador Memorial Day
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