7 Facts You Probably Didn't Know About Memorial Day

Memorial Day. Maybe you think of it as the beginning of summer, and time for a barbecue. While that’s all fun and good, it’s important that we don’t forget what the holiday is all about. Here are seven facts about why we really celebrate Memorial Day. Hint: None of them involve hot dogs.

  1. The tradition of decorating soldiers’ graves with flowers and flags is what led to the creation of Memorial Day. It was especially popular to decorate the graves of Civil War soldiers, and some regions designated a day of the year to do so. Eventually, these days would merge to become a national Memorial Day.
  2. Memorial Day was officially established as a national public holiday in 1868 by General John A. Logan, head of a group of Union veterans. The holiday was originally called Decoration Day–named for the decoration of soldiers’ graves–but the name gradually changed until it officially became Memorial Day in 1967.
  3. From 1868 to 1970, Memorial Day was celebrated every year on May 30, not the last Monday of May like we do now. It’s unclear why this date was chosen, though some have speculated that it’s because no major battles had occurred on that day, or that spring flowers would be in bloom.  
  4. The date was changed in 1968 with the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which moved Memorial Day and four other holidays to Mondays for the sake of creating the three-day weekends we all know and love. Some veterans’ organizations and lawmakers disagree with the change, arguing that it diminishes the holiday’s meaning.
  5. There is a Moment of Remembrance at 3PM on Memorial Day. Congress passed the National Moment of Remembrance Act in 2000 to encourage people to stop and remember fallen service men and women at 3PM.
  6. Memorial Day is not the same as Veteran’s Day. The latter celebrates all service men and women throughout history, while Memorial Day technically only celebrates those who died while serving. Armed Forces Day is also separate, and honors those who are currently serving.
  7. On Memorial Day morning, the Department of Veterans Affairs guidelines say the flag is supposed to be raised to the top of the pole quickly, and then slowly lowered to half-staff, where it should remain until noon. At noon, the flag should be raised to full staff to honor those who are still serving.