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Memorial Day’s Surprising Origins

Children placing flags on the veteran's graves in Weatherford, Texas
Children placing flags on the veteran’s graves in Weatherford, Texas (photo by Tui Snider)

Memorial Day’s Surprising Origins

Did you know that Memorial Day began as a remembrance for Union soldiers who lost their lives in the American Civil War (1861-1865)? After World War I, this federal holiday was changed to honor all men and women who lost their lives in any US military conflict.

Before that, Memorial Day was all about the north!

Decoration Day

Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day. The word “decoration” refers to flags and bouquets with which citizens decorated the graves of fallen soldiers.  This name wasn’t changed until after World War II.

Boy Scout troop placing flags on soldier's graves for Memorial Day in Texas
Boy Scout troop placing flags on soldier’s graves for Memorial Day in Texas (photo by Tui Snider)

Why is Memorial Day in May?

The reason we observe Memorial Day in May is because so many flowers bloom this time of year. When this annual observance began, folks couldn’t simply dash over to the florist or grocery store and grab a bouquet to take to the cemetery. They made their own floral arrangements for the most part. So, it made sense to set this holiday during a time when flowers would be available in home gardens.

Memorial Day versus Veteran’s Day

I used to confuse Memorial Day with Veteran’s Day, and I’m not the only one. So here’s the scoop, in case things have gotten fuzzy in your noggin: Memorial Day honors those who died in the military, while Veteran’s Day honors those who served in the military, living or dead.

Historic Greenwood Cemetery in Weatherford, Texas is the final resting place for many US veterans.
Historic Greenwood Cemetery in Weatherford, Texas is the final resting place for many US veterans. (photo by Tui Snider)

National Moment of Remembrance

In 2000, “The National Moment of Remembrance Act” was passed by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by our president. This act encourages all US Citizens to spend a minute in silence at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day as a way to honor all those who have died in military service.

I’ve set my alarm for 3 p.m.

What about you? Will you be taking a minute out of your day at 3 p.m. on Memorial Day to remember those who have lost their lives serving our country?

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Tui Snider
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Published inCemeteries & SymbolismHistoric CemeteriesTravel Photo Essays


  1. Easy to read! Yes, I actually did know it had to do w/ the Civil War. But I didn’t recall that it was only for the Yanks. Courtney – Maui Jungalow. In Hawaii, the military cemeteries are very festive, with leis and garlands of flowers, even mangoes!

    • Tui Snider Tui Snider

      Mangoes and leis? Beam me over! I’d love to work a trip to Hawaii into the research I’m doing for my cemetery symbols book. Thanks for dropping by, Courtney! :D

    • Tui Snider Tui Snider

      Thanks, Patricia! Man… I’ve had quite a week. My blog’s database got all tweaked out and I’ve been unable to post or reply to comments until now. Gah!

      Anyway, glad you enjoyed the post. I thought it was pretty interesting that Memorial Day got it’s start as a way to commemorate Union soldiers.

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