When is Memorial Day and how is it observed? Traditions for Decorating Day

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Memorial Day takes place on the last Monday in May each year and is a day of remembrance and reflection for all those who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces.

Formerly known as Decoration Day, the origins of the American holiday date back to the post-Civil War era, when the Grand Army of the Republic, a group of Union Army veterans, called for a day to remember the lives of those who died defending their country.

The name change was officially recognized by the federal government in 1967.

The Civil War, which ended in the spring of 1865, was the deadliest conflict in US history – an estimated 620,000 men lost their lives in battle. That figure was about 2% of the total population at the time, according to the US National Archives website.

Veterans’ graves are seen during the annual flag placing ceremony honoring the fallen for Memorial Day at the National Cemetery in Los Angeles, California, May 25, 2019. Volunteers placed 88,000 American flags on cemetery graves in preparation for Memorial Day.
MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images

Americans in several cities and towns across the country began honoring the lives of the dead in the late 1860s, decorating the graves of fallen soldiers with flowers.

When Congress passed the Uniform Holiday Act in 1968, the holiday was designated the last Monday in May rather than May 30 as it was traditionally observed.

When is Memorial Day 2022?

This year, Memorial Day falls on Monday, May 30.

How is Memorial Day observed?

Congress in 2000 passed the National Moment of Remembrance Act, which encourages the nation to observe a moment of silence at 3 p.m. local time to honor and remember those who have died in the line of duty.

“I am oppressed by the feeling that it is inappropriate to speak words on this occasion,” former congressman James Garfield, who would later become president, said in 1868 at Arlington National Cemetery.

“If silence is ever golden, it must be here beside the graves of fifteen thousand men, whose lives were more meaningful than speech, and whose death was a poem, whose music can never be sung. “

Some other Memorial Day traditions include marking the day with barbecues and parades, visiting cemeteries and memorial sites, religious services, speeches, laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Memorial National Cemetery. ‘Arlington and the Laying of Flowers and Regalia on Graves. of fallen soldiers.

American flags are also held at half mast until noon on Memorial Day, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Joyce E. Chaplin, James Duncan Phillips Professor of Ancient American History at Harvard University, said Newsweek that the tradition of decorating graves with flowers is a Christian custom with ancient roots and a seasonal custom, specific to spring in the northern hemisphere, when plants begin to bloom.

“It uses the natural world and the cycles of nature to console those who mourn the dead, and the custom dates from a time before flowers were grown commercially and sold year-round, when most flowers were not weren’t available until the spring,” Chaplin said.

“Planting flowering plants on or around graves, or bringing cut flowers to graves or graves, was part of honoring and mourning the dead.”

Chaplin said the tradition also serves to comfort mourners.

“Spring and flowers show the return of life after winter. Decorating a grave with signs of spring reassures a grieving person that their loved one lives on, either in memory or in an afterlife” , she added.

Remembrance Day 2022
US President Joe Biden waves before delivering remarks during the 153rd National Memorial Day observance at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day in Arlington, Virginia on May 31, 2021.
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

US presidents traditionally deliver speeches at Arlington National Cemetery.

Last year, during the 153rd national observance of the holiday, President Joe Biden remembered the lives of the dead during a speech at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

“We remember those who gave their all in the service of America, in the service of freedom, in the service of justice,” Biden said. “We remember their sacrifice, their valor and their grace. We remember their smiles, their loves, their laughter, their essential, vibrant and transcendent humanity.”

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