Memorial Day is a federal holiday observed annually in the United States on the last Monday of May. Formerly known as Decoration Day, it originated after the American Civil War to commemorate the fallen Union soldiers of the Civil War. Southern ladies organizations and southern schoolchildren had decorated Confederate graves in Richmond Virginia during the Civil War. Each region in the south had its own date in May.
By the 20th century Memorial Day had been extended to honor all Americans who have died in all wars. Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. As a marker it typically marks the start of the summer vacation season, while Labor Day marks its end.
Annual Decoration Days for particular cemeteries
are held on a Sunday in late spring or early summer in some rural mountain areas of the American South. In cases involving a family graveyard where remote ancestors as well as those who were deceased more recently are buried. This took on the character of an extended family reunion to which some people travel hundreds of miles. People gather on the designated day to put flowers on graves and renew contacts with kinfolk. There often is a religious service with a "dinner on the ground," the traditional term for a pot-luck meal in which people used to spread the dishes out on sheets or tablecloths on the grass. It is believed that this practice began before the American Civil War and thus may reflect the real origin of the "memorial day" idea.
Many people observe Memorial Day by visiting cemeteries and memorials. A national moment of remembrance takes place at 3 pm local time. Another tradition is to fly the flag of the United States at half-staff from dawn until noon local time. Volunteers often place American flags on each grave site at national cemeteries.
For many Americans, the central event is attending one of the thousands of parades held on Memorial Day in large and small cities all over the country. Most of these feature marching bands and an overall military theme. The National Guard with other servicemen participate along with veterans and military vehicles from various wars.
One of the longest-standing traditions is the running of the Indianapolis 500 auto race. Which has been held in conjunction with Memorial Day since 1911. It runs on the Sunday preceding the Memorial Day holiday. The Coca-Cola 600 stock car race has been held later the same day since 1961. The Memorial Tournament golf event has been held on or close to the Memorial Day weekend since 1976.
Because Memorial Day is generally associated with the start of the summer season, it is common tradition to inaugurate the outdoor cooking season on Memorial Day with a barbecue.The National Memorial Day Concert takes place on the west lawn of the United States Capitol. The concert is broadcast on PBS and NPR. Well known singers and musicians perform to honor the men and women who gave their lives for their country.
See more from National Memorial Day Concert.
As you celebrate with friends and family on May 27th 2012 . I hope we will keep in our hearts and minds the millions of servicemen and women who make our enduring freedom possible.
*FREE Annual Pass for Active Duty Military and Their Dependents to The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands