In the United States, Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance. It honors those who lost their lives while serving our country. States in both the north and south have claimed to be the holiday’s birthplace, but President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, New York the originator in May 1966.
The day was celebrated long before its official proclamation, though. On May 5, 1868, three years after the end of the Civil War, the Grand Army of the Republic Commander-in-Chief declared May 30 a day to place flowers on the graves of fallen comrades. While the holiday has changed over time, the intention is the same. Today, it is celebrated on the last Monday in May.
Over the past 150 years, we have discovered many ways to remember those who defended our country, our freedoms, and our independence. Memorial Day is a day of gratitude. We visit memorials, spend time with friends and family, and if the sky is clear, we watch it burst with fireworks of red, white, and blue.
You may enjoy other activities today, too:
- Attend a Memorial Day Parade. Whether you live in a small town or big city, you can likely find a parade today. Communities gather their veterans, musicians, local businesses and organizations, and of course, those currently serving in the military and their families for a day of appreciation and togetherness. - Katelyn
- Pause for the National Moment of Remembrance. At 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day, Americans across the country are encouraged to stop what they are doing and remember those who have fallen. Set the alarm clock on your phone so you don’t forget. When it is time, encourage your friends and family to stand with you in silence for one minute. It’s an effortless and unifying way to show your gratitude. - Megan R.
- Watch the National Memorial Day Concert on PBS. The National Memorial Day Concert airs live on PBS at 8:00 p.m. EDT on the Sunday before Memorial Day. Typically, PBS stations replay the show right after the live footage ends, just in case you miss it the first time. The concert is held on the U.S. Capitol lawn and is intended to
honor the memories of fallen service members. - Megan C.
- Send a letter to a service member. On Memorial Day, we honor lives lost, but it’s important to think about those who are currently serving and making sacrifices, too. Thank all of the service members and veterans that you know. While you’re at it, thank some you don’t know as well. Through Operation Gratitude and A Million Thanks, you can write a letter to a service member. Adopt a U.S. Soldier is similar, but it asks that you commit to a specific military pen pal for the long term. - Gwen
- Visit Washington D.C. Memorial Day weekend is the perfect time to visit the monuments commemorating veterans of foreign wars: World War II, the Vietnam War, and the Korean War. Visit Arlington National Cemetery or any armed forces cemetery to pay your respects. - Megan C.
- Fly the American flag at half staff. There is a specific protocol for displaying the flag, as it is considered a living symbol. On Memorial Day (and other days the nation is in mourning), the flag should be raised to the top of the staff, then slowly lowered below the summit of the pole. - Katelyn
- Listen to commemorative music. Unlike the winter holidays, Memorial Day doesn’t have a specific soundtrack. You can, however, listen to music about freedom, peace, and the fallen. Most people immediately think of the national anthem or “God Bless America,” but you can find some deeper cuts for your playlist. There are songs about September 11th (“Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning?” by Alan Jackson is a classic, but I like “New York, New York” by Ryan Adams), and there are thousands of songs about peace. John Lennon and Joni Mitchell wrote dozens of them, but your favorite U.S. artists probably have a few relevant tracks too. - Gwen
- Reserve tickets to see The Unknowns. This documentary focuses on the lives of the dedicated soldiers who guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. These soldiers endure 26-hour shifts in all types of weather to perform their meticulous duties. Little was known about the rigorous training process until now. Screenings begin Memorial Day weekend at 90 locations across the country. If you cannot find a venue near you, consider watching an acclaimed military documentary on Netflix. Video footage and personal accounts of war will help you better understand the sacrifices our service members have made for this country. - Megan R.
Above all, be grateful today. The United States, the land of the free, owes its liberties to the men and women who fought to secure them. If you see, know, or are related to service members or veterans, thank them for putting the well-being of others before their own. If you can’t spend time with those who have fought for our country, spend it enjoying all of the things that you hold dear.
Is there something that you like to do on Memorial Day that isn’t on our list? Send us a tweet! @StudentCaffe