Memorial Day is a holiday that I was never really taught about. After many, years of celebrating without a reason I decided to find out how it came to be. I mean, I know that its’ purpose is to honor those that we have lost while protecting our freedom, but how did this holiday actually come to fruition?
After researching I found myself completely taken by this holiday. The history is so interesting, as the meaning of Memorial Day has gradually evolved over the years. President Johnson declared Waterloo, New York the official birthplace of Memorial Day because it was the first state to recognize it in 1873. However, through the magic of the internet and the History Channel, it actually all started near the end of the Civil War. The first Memorial Day was in April 1865. A group gathered in Charleston, South Carolina, at a horse track that was turned into a Confederate prison. Over 250 Union soldiers had died there. They dug up the mass grave where the soldiers lay together, and gave them individual graves. After, they built a 100 yard fence around them and an archway at the entrance, marked with the words “Martyrs of the Race Course.”
On May 1, in 1865, around 10,000 people, preachers, teachers, children and Union troops marched around the burial site singing while carrying armfuls of roses. At the celebration honoring those lost, 5 Preachers recited scripture and a children’s choir sang spirituals and “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Why this has been forgotten over time historians consider this gathering to be the first Memorial Day.
Ever wonder how the tradition of wearing red poppies got started? In 1915, a secretary named Moina Michael came across a famous World War I Poem named “In Flanders Fields” written by John McCrae, why reading Ladies’ Home Journal. The Poem began with the line, “In Flanders fields the poppies blow/Between the crosses, row on row.” She was so moved by the poem that she vowed to wear a silk poppy in honor of the Soldiers who gave their lives for our country. With the help of friends and co-workers, a campaign began and the red flowers became an official memorial emblem. In 1921 the American Legion adopted the tradition of wearing a red poppy and it spread to over 50 countries.
In 1971 Congress moved Memorial Day from May 30th to the last Monday of the Month of May.
Today we think of Memorial Day as a yearly traditional 3 day weekend, associated with being outside and enjoying sales. While, this is fun lets not forget to take a moment of silence and respect for those who loved our Country so much that they made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom and way of life.
According to the 2000 National Moment of Remembrance Act all Americans should “voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence.” I encourage all of you to do so, and honor not only who we have lost but also those who serve or have served in our Country’s military. Happy Memorial Day!