What's the meaning of Memorial Day? Why we honor the holiday


Amidst the holiday hubbub, the real meaning of Memorial Day can often get lost amidst the excitement of a three-day weekend.

While many people are busy hosting barbecues or scouring Memorial Day deals, it's important to remember the real reason for the holiday.

Memorial Day was created to honor U.S. military personnel who lost their lives while serving our country.

The holiday, which takes place each year on the last Monday in May, serves as a reminder of the sacrifices that have been made in service of our country.

To quote President John F. Kennedy's “Prayer for Peace" on Memorial Day 1962, “Americans may not only pay tribute to our honored dead, but also unite in prayer for success in our search for a just and lasting peace.”

Across the country, people honor fallen U.S. military personnel by attending parades, decorating military gravesites, and lowering the American flag to half mast from sunrise to noon.

If you haven't read up on the history of our country and its heroes, Memorial Day weekend is the perfect opportunity to spend some time learning about the history of the holiday.

However you plan to spend the long weekend, take a moment to pause and reflect on the incredible sacrifices that have been made on America's behalf.

What is the meaning of Memorial Day?

Originally created in 1868 to honor fallen soldiers of the Civil War, Memorial Day has since expanded to honor all U.S. military personnel who have died in service.

Several events and ceremonies that take place during Memorial Day are intended to encourage people to reflect on the holiday's true meaning.

In 2000, Congress passed the National Moment of Remembrance Act, which designates 3:00 p.m. local time on Memorial Day as a time for prayer and reflection.

According to the Clinton administration, the National Moment of Remembrance was instituted in order to remind Americans of the real reason for the federal holiday.

An archival website stated that the inspiration for the National Moment of Remembrance came from a 1996 anecdote: “The idea of the 'Moment' was born when children touring Lafayette Park in Washington, DC were asked what Memorial Day meant and they responded, “That’s the day the pools open!”

In light of this, the National Moment of Remembrance was created “to put the ‘memorial’ back in Memorial Day.”

Other events to commemorate the holiday include the National Memorial Day Parade in Washington, D.C.; the National Memorial Day Concert, and a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.

What is the origin of Memorial Day?

Memorial Day was officially established as a federal holiday in 1971, but the tradition of honoring fallen soldiers began over a century prior.

Originally deemed Decoration Day, the first Memorial Day event occurred on May 30, 1868.

John A. Logan, a politician and former U.S. Army general during the Civil War, advocated for the government to create a national day of remembrance for fallen Civil War soldiers.

The first Decoration Day ceremony took place at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. James A. Garfield, a future American president who was an Ohio congressman at the time, gave a speech to mark the occasion.

Since then, Arlington National Cemetery has hosted a remembrance ceremony every year on Memorial Day.

Fallen soldiers are honored with flags at their gravesites, and a wreath is placed at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The U.S. president also traditionally gives a speech at Arlington's Memorial Amphitheater.

Today, Americans still attend Memorial Day parades and decorate the graves of fallen soldiers — just like they did on the very first iteration of the holiday.

This article was originally published on TODAY.com