Memorial Day is an American holiday, celebrated on the last Monday in May, in honor of the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. This year, Memorial Day is today, Monday, May 31.
Originally known as Decoration Day, it originated in the post-Civil War years and became an official federal holiday in 1971. Many Americans celebrate Memorial Day by visiting cemeteries or memorials, holding family reunions and participating in parades. Unofficially, it marks the beginning of the summer season.
The Civil War, which ended in the spring of 1865, claimed more lives than any other conflict in U.S. history and necessitated the establishment of the nation’s first national cemeteries.
By the late 1860s, Americans in various towns and cities had begun to hold springtime tributes to these countless fallen soldiers, decorating their graves with flowers and reciting prayers.
Cities and towns across the United States organize ‘Memorial Day’ parades each year, often incorporating military personnel and members of veterans’ organizations. Some of the largest parades take place in Chicago, New York and Washington, DC.
Americans also celebrate Memorial Day by visiting cemeteries and monuments. Some people wear a red poppy in remembrance of the war dead, a tradition that began with a World War I poem. On a less somber note, many people travel on weekends or organize parties and barbecues during the three-day weekend.