It’s most commonly recognized as the first unofficial day of summer. You can bet there will be yards full of people enjoying grilled burgers and hotdogs and collecting their first sunburn of the year. But summer fun aside, Memorial Day exists for a much more somber reason. Here are some things you may not know about the day we kick off summer:
1) It was originally a remembrance day for fallen Civil War veterans.
Yes, Memorial Day has been a thing since 1868, three years after the end of the Civil War. After World War I, people started using the day to remember fallen soldiers from all U.S. conflicts.
2) It used to be called “Decoration Day.”
As in decorating the graves of fallen soldiers – it’s customary to adorn veterans’ graves with flowers, flags and wreaths on this day.
3) It wasn’t always the last Monday of May. It was originally celebrated on May 30, a day on which no Civil War battles occurred.
In 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which requires a few federal holidays to happen on specific Mondays each year. This was an effort to add three-day weekends for workers across the nation – and give the travel industry a boost. The act solidified Memorial Day as we know it on the last Monday in May.
4) Americans are legally obligated to observe a moment of remembrance at 3 p.m. on Memorial Day.
In December 2000, Congress passed a law encouraging a National Moment of Remembrance. Why 3 p.m.? Because it’s thought to be the time of day when most people are off work and actively enjoying the freedoms won by those we remember on this holiday.
5) Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a poem about Memorial Day.
Just a few weeks after Longfellow had died, his poem “Decoration Day” was published in The Atlantic in 1882. Take a moment – maybe at 3 p.m. – to read it. You won’t be sorry.