Memorial Day (May 31): History, Significance and Symbol
|The history of Memorial Day 2021 dates back to the American Civil War. Photo Heroes Dental|
Fderal holiday observed yearly on the last Monday of May. Memorial Day is a day that commemorates all men and women who have died while serving in the military for the United States of America.
When is Memorial Day?
Memorial Day was witnessed on May 30 from 1868 until 1970 but is now observed annually on the last Monday in May. What day is Memorial Day this year? In 2021, Memorial Day occurs on Monday, May 31.
Memorial Day: History
The history of Memorial Day 2021 dates back to the American Civil War. It started as an event to honour soldiers who had died during the war. It is said to be inspired by the way people in the Southern states honoured the dead. The original national celebration of Decoration Day took place on 30 May 1868. There was over twenty four cities and towns across the United States that claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day. Waterloo (New York) was officially declared the birthplace of Memorial Day by President Lyndon Johnson in May 1966. In the late 19th century, the holiday (previously known as Decoration Day) became known as Memorial Day and was expanded to include the deceased veterans of all the wars fought by American forces. Originally, the holiday used to be celebrated on May 30, regardless of the day of the week that it fell on. In 1968, the Uniform Holidays Bill was passed and as a result the day changed.
Traditionally Memorial Day is viewed as a time of honour and remembrance. Throughout the United States it is common to visit cemeteries, particularly military ones, and decorate graves of the deceased with flowers, small flags and wreathes. Other common traditions of Memorial Day 2021 that are still practiced today include the raising the U.S. flag quickly to the tops of flagpoles, slowly lowered to half-mast, and then it is raised again to full height at noon. The lowering of the flag at half-mast is meant to honour the fallen soldiers who have died for their country over the years. While re-raising the flag is meant to symbolize the resolve of the living to carry on the fight for freedom so that the nation's heroes will not have died in vain.
On the United States Capitol Building's West Lawn, a Memorial Day concert is held annually and is broadcasted live around the country. Additionally, there are thousands of Memorial Day 2021 parades all across the country in cities small and large. Many will wear or put on a display of red poppies on this day as a symbol of fallen soldiers. This tradition grew out of the famous poem by Canadian John McCrae known as ‘In Flander's Fields', where Moina Michael conceived an idea to wear red poppies on Memorial day in honour of those who died serving the nation during war.
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Memorial Day: Significance
So why do we celebrate Memorial Day?
Memorial Day is considered a federal holiday in the United States in which we honor and mourn members of the military who have passed while serving in the United States Armed Forces. This is not to be confused with Veterans Day.
Why is the Poppy a symbol of Memorial Day?
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In the war-torn battlefields of Europe, the common red field poppy (Papaver rhoeas) was one of the first plants to reappear. Its seeds scattered in the wind and sat dormant in the ground, only germinating when the ground was disturbed—as it was by the very brutal fighting of World War 1.
John McCrae, a Canadian soldier and physician, witnessed the war first hand and was inspired to write the now-famous poem “In Flanders Fields” in 1915. (See below for the poem.) He saw the poppies scattered throughout the battlefield surrounding his artillery position in Belgium.
The Poppy Lady
In November 1918, days before the official end of the war, an American professor named Moina Michael wrote her own poem, “We Shall Keep the Faith,” which was inspired by McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields.” In her poem (also shown below), she mentioned wearing the “poppy red” to honor the dead, and with that, the tradition of adorning one’s clothing with a single red poppy in remembrance of those killed in the Great War was born. Moina herself came to be known—and honored—as “The Poppy Lady.”
The Symbol Spreads Abroad
The wearing of the poppy was traditionally done on Memorial Day in the United States, but the symbolism has evolved to encompass all veterans living and deceased, so poppies may be worn on Veterans Day as well. Not long after the custom began, it was adopted by other Allied nations, including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, where it is still popular today. In these countries, the poppy is worn on Remembrance Day (November 11).
Today, poppies are not only a symbol of loss of life, but also of recovery and new life, especially in support of the servicemen who survived the war but suffered from physical and psychological injuries long after it ended.
Memorial Day vs Veterans Day
Memorial Day honors military personnel who died in the service of their country. More specifically, it honors those who died in battle or as a result of wounds they sustained during battle. Veterans Day, observed on November 11 every year, honors everyone who has served in the army regardless of whether they served during wartime or not. Some people also wonder how Patriot Day falls into this mix of holidays. Patriot Day is observed on September 11 to commemorate the civilians that died during the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Most Memorial Day travel will consist of road trips by car, AAA predicts. Auto travel is expected to increase 52 percent compared with 2020, and more than 9 in 10 Memorial Day travelers plan to drive to their destinations.
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