Oh that first long weekend of the year! Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of summer, and it’s mere mention conjurers up thoughts of picnics, parades, grilling out and adventure travel. Pretty much everyone knows that Memorial Day commemorates those who have given their lives in service to their country. But do you know the history of Memorial Day?
The practice of honoring those who have fallen in battle actually dates back thousands of years. The ancient Greeks and Romans held annual days of remembrance for loved ones killed in battle, festooning their graves with flowers and holding public festivals and feasts in their honor. One of the first known public tributes to war dead was in 431 BC, when the Athenian general and statesman Pericles delivered a funeral oration praising the sacrifice and valor of those killed in the Peloponnesian war. (An ancient Greek war fought by Athens against the Peloponnesian league led by Sparta)
In this country, Decoration Day as it was originally known, dates back about 150 years. In 1868, Gen. John Logan issued a decree that May 30 should become a nationwide day of commemoration for the more than 620,000 soldiers killed in the Civil War. According to legend, Logan chose May 30 because it was a rare day that didn’t fall on the anniversary of a Civil War battle. Logan Circle in Washington, DC is named in honor of this general. By 1890, every former state of the union had adopted it as an official holiday. But for more than 50 years, the holiday was used to commemorate just those killed in the Civil War. It wasn’t until World War I that the tradition was expanded to include those killed in all wars, even though Memorial Day did not become a federal holiday until 1971.
The term Decoration Day was used for more than a century until it was changed to Memorial Day by federal law. In 1968 Congress moved Memorial Day from May 30 to the last Monday in May. Did you know that Memorial Day has a “birthplace”? In 1966 President Johnson signed legislation declaring Waterloo, New York as the official birthplace of Memorial Day. In 2000, Congress passed legislation encouraging all Americans to pause for a national moment of remembrance at 3 PM local time. So this Memorial Day as you are enjoying all the festivities of the holiday weekend, take a moment to think about those who served and sacrificed to make it possible!
Source: The History Channel
I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.
Excerpt from letter written to Mrs. Bixby of Boston, Massachusetts by Abraham Lincoln on November 21, 1864, after two of her sons were killed in battle.