Why Do We Celebrate Memorial Day? Its True Meaning

Updated February 4, 2022
Boots With American Flag

Have you ever taken a minute to ask yourself why we celebrate Memorial Day? The holiday is much more than just a three-day party weekend declaring the beginning of summer. Help your family better understand the meaning behind the holiday; and discover new ways to honor the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice serving their country.

Why Do We Celebrate Memorial Day? The History Behind the Holiday

General John Logan, the national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, declared the first Memorial Day (known as Decoration Day) on May 5, 1868, following the end of the Civil War. He wanted people to honor the fallen soldiers by placing flowers on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. His proclamation for the holiday was:

"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."

Recognition and Observation of Memorial Day

The northern states were the first to recognize this holiday, while the southern states did not join in the remembrance until after World War I. Memorial Day was made a federal holiday in 1971. Historically, Memorial Day was observed on May 30th. However, it was moved to the last Monday of May to make for a three-day weekend for federal holiday purposes.

While it remains unclear precisely where the tradition of observing fallen soldiers originated, Waterloo, New York gets the honor of being the designated birthplace of the holiday. Waterloo was chosen as the summer holiday's birthplace in 1966, but the city had started the yearly observance of honoring the deceased back in 1866. Business would close up shop for the day, and the city residents would decorate the graves of soldiers who had passed with flowers and flags.

Forgetting the True Meaning of Memorial Day

If you asked most Americans, "Why do we celebrate Memorial Day?" most of them probably wouldn't know. Unless you know someone who has died in a war, you probably don't think twice about what the day commemorates. It doesn't touch you emotionally enough for you to really care about the meaning behind Memorial Day, except for it signaling the beginning of summer.

A Way to Remember the True Meaning

In hopes of bringing back the true meaning of the day, a National Moment of Remembrance was put into effect in 2000. The resolution asks Americans to have a moment of silence on Memorial Day at 3 p.m. local time. This moment of silence can be a time to reflect on history, meditate, or pray.

It is important to honor the fallen by teaching future generations why the holiday exists. Help them understand that the day is a time to be grateful for those who have given their lives to protect the livelihood of the American people. Celebrate Memorial Day with a brief education on the meaning behind the holiday, and by doing some activities to enhance the occasion.

How to Celebrate Memorial Day's True Meaning

man and woman clapping

Now that you know the true meaning of Memorial Day, you can make plans that honor what the day was originally intended to commemorate. You don't have to do something extravagant, just something that reminds you of the people who fought for what you have today. This could simply be reading some history, saying a prayer for current soldiers, or taking a few minutes to educate others on the holiday's true meaning. It could also be through fun family activities.

Memorial Day Parades

A Memorial Day parade is a tradition in most cities and towns. It is also an opportunity for you to honor and show support for those who died while serving in the U.S. military. If by chance your city or town does not have an annual Memorial Day parade, you might want to contact your city council about setting one up. You can contact local businesses for sponsorships and invite school bands, local sports organizations and cheerleaders to participate. You can then contact local newspapers to get the word out about the parade. Not only will this bring back what the day is all about, but it will also bring people out of their homes to celebrate something special.

Memorial Day Festivities

Keep in mind, you don't have to make it a solemn day; you can still attend or host a barbecue, go to the beach, have a picnic, or take part in other Memorial Day festivities. These activities serve as a celebration for how far this nation has come, the soldiers who sacrificed their lives for it, and the coming together of friends to appreciate the life you have.

Do Something for the Armed Services

Get the kids together, and make heartfelt cards for troops overseas. Gather items that members of the armed forces would appreciate and send them in a thoughtful care package. You can compile packages full of books, candy, and other comforts they might be missing. Care packages for the military will always be greatly appreciated!

Take a Virtual Tour of the Capital

Try taking an interactive, virtual tour of the Nation's capital! Great sites to try are:

Use this time to connect the virtual tour to the holiday, the armed forces, and how the military, the government, the country's safety, and the individual self are all interconnected.

Play Patriotic Music

Liven up your Memorial Day bbq with patriotic music. Make a playlist that complements the sentiments of the holiday. If you have kids who play instruments, see if they can learn a few Memorial Day songs on their instrument. Play them for the family!

Donate to Causes Close to the Armed Forces' Hearts

There are tons of non-profit organizations dedicated to military forces and the armed services. Find an organization that speaks to you, and make an annual donation each Memorial Day.

Create a Colorful Tribute

Gather up your own troops (also known as your friends, neighbors, and family) and transform your driveway into a massive American flag! Be sure to have tons of red, white, and blue chalk on hand as well as lots of refreshments. Take a picture of everyone who contributed to the chalk art and post the image to a site honoring the armed forces.

A Day to Honor and Remember

You may spend Memorial Day at a family gathering or visiting the cemetery or a memorial. Wherever your celebrations take you, remember the true meaning of the holiday by honoring the men and women who died while serving our country.

Why Do We Celebrate Memorial Day? Its True Meaning