Shannon Brady
Writer & Editor

The United States has several holidays dedicated to its service members; Armed Forces Day (third Saturday in May, this year May 18) honors those currently serving, while Veterans Day (November 11, annually) honors those still alive who have served in the armed forces. Memorial Day, observed annually on the last Monday of May, honors service members who have passed away. Check out our previous article on Memorial Day for more information.

Memorial Day was the first of these holidays to be established in the United States. While claims differ on the exact date and location of its true origin, most agree that the holiday was born and began to grow in the years immediately following the American Civil War, which was the deadliest conflict in American history up until that point and remains so to this day, with an estimated 620,000 soldiers killed in battle. Still grieving and reeling from the degree of deaths, Northern and Southern families alike were documented to have decorated soldiers’ graves in formal holidays and community events, which came to commonly be called “Decoration Day.

Over the decades, these memorial traditions grew in popularity nationwide, until in 1971, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act and enshrined into law that Memorial Day would be observed as a federal holiday on the last Monday of every May.

At its core, Memorial Day is a day of mourning, especially for the families and loved ones of soldiers who died in battle or after returning home. Often, you can find military cemeteries decorated with American flags, flowers, and even personal touches for the soldiers buried there. Speeches and other events at these cemeteries and at historical sites are also common. Some even find it distasteful to wish others a “Happy Memorial Day” for this reason.

At the same time, Memorial Day is also considered to be the unofficial start of summer and the first three-day weekend in months, so it is also a popular time of year for parties, barbecues, and beach trips. Businesses will often hold Memorial Day sales if they aren’t closed or operating on limited hours for the holiday (government buildings, schools, and banks will be closed). Expect traffic and crowds around popular sites.

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