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6 facts about Memorial Day and how to celebrate it

Posted May 27
Updated May 28

Red, white and blue will span the landscapes of American cities this weekend as flags are placed on the graves of fallen soldiers.

Memorial Day is a federal holiday set aside to honor the men and women who sacrificed their lives throughout the more than 200 years of war history of the nation. This year, the holiday falls on May 29.

Amid the family gatherings, barbecues and outdoor activities, Americans traditionally observe Memorial Day through ceremonies, parades and placing flowers and flags on the gravesites of family and friends.

In preparing for the day of remembrance, here are some facts and activity ideas to help make the holiday more meaningful.

Memorial Day history

The holiday was originally called “Decoration Day” and was first observed on May 5, 1868, a date chosen because it didn’t fall on the anniversary of any particular battle, according to History.com. Gen. John A. Logan, a military man and political leader, spoke at the Arlington National Cemetery. The speech was followed by 5,000 people decorating the graves of 20,000 soldiers buried there.

Decorating graves

Traditions practiced on Memorial Day were born during the Civil War, according to mentalfloss.com. Following the battle of Gettysburg, women from Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, placed flowers on the graves of the fallen soldiers. A couple of years later, women from Columbus, Mississippi, decorated the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers.

The fallen

According to PBS Newshour, more than 1.1 million American soldiers have died since the Revolutionary War in 1775. The Civil War alone is accountable for the deaths of 620,000 military personnel.

Act to remember

The “National Moment of Remembrance Act” was signed on Dec. 20, 2000, by President Bill Clinton, designating 3 p.m. as a moment set aside to “pause and consider the true meaning of this holiday.”

Thank a veteran

While Memorial Day honors fallen soldiers, it’s also an opportunity to thank those currently serving in the military. Holidappy suggests visiting disabled or wounded veterans and thanking them for their service. Operation Gratitude is a project that has people write letters and send care packages to soldiers currently deployed.

Hit the road

Memorial Day unofficially marks the beginning of summer for many Americans, meaning the roads are typically packed with the first rush of weekend travelers. The American Automobile Association estimates that 39.3 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more away from their homes this weekend. As preparations for this Memorial Day are being made, be sure to plan accordingly and to travel safely.

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  • Tim Orr May 29, 1:11 p.m.
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    Memorial Day is NOT about Veterans or Active Duty Service Members, we have our own days. Memorial Day is NOT just about those that gave their lives on a battlefield.

    Memorial Day is to honor ALL those who served our country to defend the rights we exercise in our ignorance and are no longer with us. Civilians served this country and gave their lives, honor them also.

    All gave some, some gave all...not just a cute saying, think about it. The Grandfather you love that didn't die during a conflict...Memorial Day is about him. The Civilians that helped military actions, yep them too. Your Uncles, Aunts, Cousins, that served this country but died of old age, illness or a car crash....yep.

    So get it straight WRAL...and others.

  • Nancy Torborg May 29, 1:03 p.m.
    user avatar

    It's an OBSERVANCE! Read the text of your own article to understand why " celebrating" is a poor choice of words. It became a three day weekend when Congress declared it so for Federal Employees in 1968 ( in effect in 1971).