Calendar Days: Memorial Day History

Calendar Days: Memorial Day History

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton
Memorial Day is a U.S. federal holiday that was originally known as Decoration Day and commemorated the fallen soldiers from the Civil War. Now, the day remembers the Americans who have sacrificed their lives for the nation in all wars. It falls on the last Monday in May every year and is observed with several traditions, such as visiting cemeteries and attending parades. It is now also associated with the start of summer, which people celebrate by having barbecues. In this video, learns more about the history and origins of Memorial Day.

Memorial Day

Memorial Day is a U.S. federal holiday that remembers those Americans who have sacrificed their lives for the nation. Each year, it falls on the last Monday in May.


Memorial Day began as a time to commemorate the soldiers who died during the American Civil War. In the early 1860s, people all over the country were gathering to pay tribute to the fallen during the spring.

National Recognition

The event went nationwide in 1868 after the Grand Army of the Republic leader designated May 30th as Decoration Day, and later Memorial Day. In an attempt to honor the service of Civil War veterans across the United States, General John A. Logan asked that their graves be decorated with flowers.

First Decoration Day

That same year, General and future U.S. President James A. Garfield gave the speech at the very first Decoration Day at Virginia’s Arlington Memorial Cemetery.

North Versus South

Since General Logan was commander-in-chief of an organization for Northern Civil War vets, many northern states followed suit and eventually adopted Decoration Day as an official holiday. However, those in the south maintained their own commemorative activities for several decades, to remember the supporters of the Confederacy’s cause.

Memorial Day For All Americans in All Wars

After the First World War, the holiday began honoring all Americans who died while fighting in all wars. Memorial Day’s traditional date was then moved to the last Monday in May, and it soon became associated with the start of summer and all the festivities that entails.


Memorial Day has been observed with several traditions and events over time. This includes the National Moment of Remembrance at 3pm, where every American is requested to take a one-minute pause.

Evolution and Present Day

Many Americans continue to stop by cemeteries, either to pay tribute to the late soldiers or to visit the graves of loved ones. Others may find themselves at the military-inspired parades that are held in several cities. Both the Indianapolis 500 and the National Memorial Day concert in Washington, D.C. also take place during this time, and celebrate this holiday in honor of fallen soldiers.

American History

If you’re interested in learning more about what the troops have done for the United States, be sure to tune in to for our history profiles.