The History of Memorial Day
Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day because it was a time set aside to honor the nation's Civil War dead by decorating their graves. It was first widely observed on May 30, 1868, to commemorate the sacrifices of Civil War soldiers, by proclamation of General John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of former sailors and soldiers. On May 5, 1868, Logan declared in General Order No. 11 that:
The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.
During the first celebration of Decoration Day, General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, after which 5,000 participants helped to decorate the graves of the more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried in the cemetery.
This 1868 celebration was inspired by local observances of the day in several towns throughout America that had taken place in the three years since the Civil War. In fact, several Northern and Southern cities claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day, including Columbus, Miss.; Macon, Ga.; Richmond, Va.; Boalsburg, Pa.; and Carbondale, Ill.
In 1966, the federal government, under the direction of President Lyndon Johnson, declared Waterloo, N.Y., the official birthplace of Memorial Day. They chose Waterloo—which had first celebrated the day on May 5, 1866—because the town had made Memorial Day an annual, community-wide event during which businesses closed and residents decorated the graves of soldiers with flowers and flags.
By the late 1800s, many communities across the country had begun to celebrate Memorial Day and, after World War I, observances also began to honor those who had died in all of America's wars. In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday to be celebrated the last Monday in May. (Veterans Day, a day set aside to honor all veterans, living and dead, is celebrated each year on November 11.)
Today, Memorial Day is celebrated at Arlington National Cemetery with a ceremony in which a small American flag is placed on each grave. Also, it is customary for the president or vice-president to give a speech honoring the contributions of the dead and lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. About 5,000 people attend the ceremony annually.
Several Southern states continue to set aside a special day for honoring the Confederate dead, which is usually called Confederate Memorial Day:
On the Fourth of July, we pause to remember and celebrate the values of liberty and justice that make our country great, and to be thankful for the remarkable freedoms that we enjoy in the United States of America.
The significance of this day has inspired speeches, literary works, and musical compositions. It is also an opportunity for each of us to ponder the meaning of our nation's heritage and to celebrate it in our own unique way. In addition to having you celebrate with us by watching A Capitol Fourth, we want to hear why this holiday is special to you and your family! Click to the left to tell us what the 4th of July means to you!
Many Fourth of July customs have not changed since our earliest celebrations. But some communities across the nation have developed their own traditions. For example:
On July 4 1976, major celebrations throughout the country marked America's 200th birthday. In Washington, D.C., 33 tons of fireworks were exploded in the sky above the Washington Monument, along with laser beams that spelled out "1776-1976, Happy Birthday, USA." In New York, a succession of tall sailing ships from all over the world sailed up the Hudson River.PRESIDENT’S DAY Until 1986 this holiday was in fast two holidays: Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday, celebrated on February 12, and George Washington’s Birthday, celebrated on February 22. Their birthdays are celebrated on the 3rd Monday in February. Abraham Lincoln was President during the Civil War ( 1861 – 1865). He led the fight to keep the nation together and free the slaves. His life ended tragically. He was killed at the theatre during the performance soon after the victory of the North. In honor of this great man a beautiful memorial has been built in Washington, D. C. George Washington led the American Army to victory in the War for Independence. Later he was elected President of the United States and was in office for 8 years (1789 –1797). The national capital of the United States, a state and several towns are named after George Washington. In addition to commemorating the birth of the US’s first President, it’s a great day for shoppers. The department stores of Washington, D. C., started a national tradition of sales marked by unusual bargains. The US Congress observes the birthday of G. Washington with speeches and reading from his works. ST PATRIC’S DAY It’s a great day for the Shamrock, For the flags in full array, inspirish, Sure because for all the Irish It’s a great, great day! On March 17th, Americans celebrate an Irish religious holiday, St Patrick’s Day. It is a day to remember the Irish people in the United States and Ireland. Ireland is a country with a lot of green grass and shamrocks. Shamrock are small plants with three leaves. There is a lot of green in Ireland, so green is Ireland’s national color. People often wear green clothes on St Patrick’s Day. There are parades in many cities with large Irish population, but the largest parade is in New York. Many people go to parties. They sing, dance, and eat Irish food. Some drink green beer. St Patrick was a priest in Ireland many years ago. He taught the Irish people about God. St Patrick died on March 17th in the year 461. Beginning in 1845, many Irish people moved to the United States. They came because there wasn’t enough food to eat in Ireland. St Patrick’s Day celebrations helped the Irish remember their country, their music and their families. Many Americans say, “Everyone is Irish on St Patrick’s Day.” MAY DAY It’s May! It’s May! The lusty month of May, That lovely month when everyone goes Blissfully astray ! The roots of the May Day celebration go back to very ancient time and are evident in many civilizations, where basically the idea was to express gratitude to the gods for the renewal of spring. May Day was not widely celebrated in the United States during its early years, because the Puritans disapproved of frivolous festivities. Some American parents and teachers use this holiday as a chance to encourage their children and students to bring some surprise and joy into the life of the lonely or aged. They make May baskets filled with flowers and candy and hang them on doorknobs throughout their neighborhoods, sometimes ringing the bell, hiding, and watching smiles replace frowns and unexpected joy light up the wrinkled faces of their neighbors. FLAG DAY Then hurrah for the flag, our country’s flag, Its stripes and white stars, too. There is no flag in any land Like our own Red, White and Blue. On June 14th, 1777, the United States adopted its first flag. Today Americans honor the US flag each year on June 14th. Flag Day is a national commemorative day. It is not a holiday from work. Many people fly the flag outside their homes and businesses on this day. The American flag has different names. One name is “The Red, White, and Blue.” This name is for the colors of the flag. Another name is “The Stars and Stripes.” This name is for the 50 stars and 13 stripes. The flag did not always have 50 stars and 13 stripes. In 1777, the original flag had 13stars and 13stripes for the 13 colonies. The 13 colonies became the first 13 states. Then more states joined the United States. In 1794, the flag had 15 stars and 15 stripes. Then more states joined. This created a problem for the flag makers. The flag was getting too big! So in 1818, Congress decided to have only 13 stripes on the flag. They decided to add one star for each new state. So now there are 50 stars and 13stripes on the flag. INDEPENDENCE DAY America, America, Land of hope and liberty, Freedom rings from every mountain, From sea to sea. July 4th is Independence Day. Another name for IndependenceDay is the Fourth of July. On this day in 1776 the final of the Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson, was adopted. Independence Day is a national holiday. Government offices, banks, and schools close. Most people don’t go to work. Families and friends get together outside for picnics and cookouts. Labor Day was started in 1882 by a union called the Knights of Labor. The first celebration was a long parade followed by a picnic in New York City. In 1894 Congress made it a legal holiday. Labor Day is traditionally celebrated with parades, speeches, and recognition of the labor unions. Labor Day sales are a popular event held on this holiday. Barbecues and picnics are popular on Labor Day. They mark the end of the summer season. Schools usually open after this holiday. COLUMBUS DAY The American continent was discoved in 1492 by the Spanish seaman Christopher Columbus. Columbus is said to be the first Euaropen man, stepping on the American land, and that day, when it was happend, the 12th of October, became the holiday, which is called Columbus Day. This holiday is celebrated in 34 States of the USA and Puerto Rico. There are parades and parties in San Francisco and New York. One of the squares of New York is called Columbus Circle with the monument of Columbus in themiddle of it. ELECTION DAY The first Tuesday after the first Monday in November is Election Day. It is a legal holiday. Since 1845, by Act of Congress, this date has been set aside for elections. On this day American citizen elect their public officials, president, congressmen, governors, mayors and judges. All states require that voters be citizens of the United States. “Election Day” sales in stories are very popular on this day. The night of the election, people watch the election results on TV. They listen to the speeches made by the winners. VETERANS DAY November 11th is a national holiday. Veterans Day is a day to remember and honor all those Americans who served in the armed forces and particularly those who fought during the Spanish – Americans War, World Wars I and II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. People also remember those soldiers missing in action. This day reminds people of the courage and patriotism of all men and women who serve their country. President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11th as Armistice Day so Americans would not forget the tragedies of war. In 1954 Congress changed the name to Veterans Day to honor all United States veterans. It is also a day dedicated to world peace. On this day, the radio and television broadcast services held at the National Cemetery in Arlington. High officials come from Washington to attend these services. They place a wreath of flowers at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. All stand in silence for a few minutes at eleven o’clock to honor the memory of the serviceman killed in the two World Wars.