Memorial Day – what’s it all about?

This weekend is a long weekend in the USA with Monday being Memorial Day. This seems to be a significant holiday here – another day for Americans to demonstrate their pride in their country and pride and gratitude for those who serve, fight and die for it. There are plenty of American flags about and lots of American paraphernalia to entice consumers. So, I thought I would find out what it’s all about.

Memorial Day

Memorial Day

Memorial Day, “the most solemn of American holidays”, is a day of remembrance for those who have died whilst serving in the military for the USA. It was originally called Decoration Day and was borne out of the desire to honour the dead of the Civil War (1861-1865).

General John Logan first declared that Decoration Day would be held on 30th May 1868 (not being the anniversary of any battle in particular) where people could place flowers on, or otherwise adorn the graves of fallen soldiers.

All northern states recognised the holiday by 1890, but the south refused until after WWII when the day changed from honouring those who died in the civil war, to those who had died in any war. In 1968 Congress passed an act that would see Memorial Day celebrated on the last Monday in May, allowing for a 3 day weekend. Memorial day is now observed in almost every state on the last Monday in May (although several of the southern states still have an additional day for honouring the Confederate dead).

The Memorial Day weekend generally also signifies the beginning of summer in the USA.

I guess an equivalent holiday would be ANZAC Day in Australia.

ANZAC stands for Australia and New Zealand Army Corps. ANZAC day commemorates the anniversary of the landing of the ANZAC forces on the Gallipoli peninsula (in order to capture the Dardanelles) in 1915 during WWI (the first major military conflict that the ANZACs fought in).

Lone Pine - Gallipoli

Lone Pine – Gallipoli

It was first celebrated in 1916 however, the first organised dawn service is generally regarded as being held in 1928 where two minutes silence was observed and wreaths were laid at the Cenotaph in Sydney. The tradition continues and now includes the honouring all Australian service men and women who have been killed in any military operation which Australia has been involved in, with commemorative services taking place at dawn (the time of the original Gallipoli landing) and includes the laying of wreaths, playing of the Last Post and a period of silence. The day also includes marches (involving past service men and women) and the playing of two-up.

More information about ANZAC Day can be found at the Australian War Memorial web site.

2 thoughts on “Memorial Day – what’s it all about?

  1. A great read. I love how summer here is basically book-ended by two three-day weekends (Memorial and Labor Day), it’s little mileposts like these that mark the passing of the seasons.

    I think you have the equivalence between Memorial Day and ANZAC Day just right. I always post the Ode from our ANZAC Day services for my friends over here and it always gets a good reaction. And now, in true modern tradition, the Indy 500 is on …


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