There are many Memorial Day fun facts that have you should keep in mind as you heat the charcoals in the grills and dig out your plaid picnic blanket. While picnics and white dresses may be at the forefront of your Memorial Day weekend, this holiday has a long and varied history. So take a moment to slow down, learn about this national holiday and remember those who have served this country.
First things first, Memorial day is May 27th, 2019. Mark your calendars!
Memorial Day is a national holiday remembering those who have given their lives in defense of The United States.
Memorial Day differs from Veterans Day, which focuses more intently on those who have served and are still living. Instead, Memorial Day is a time to remember those who have given their lives and bodies for this country. The focus is on remembering and recognizing the sacrifice it takes to maintain our democracy and our way of life. Memorial Day is for all the wars we’ve fought throughout the 231 years of existing.
Memorial Day has no clear beginning.
Records of the first Memorial Day are difficult to find, but there are a few broad strokes that make some interesting Memorial Day fun facts. Memorial Day is said to have begun in the South just after the end of the Civil War. Women from small Southern towns would get together on a day in April or May, and visit the graves of their family members who perished in the war. Several towns lay claim to being the first to celebrate Memorial Day including Waterloo NY, Boalsburg PA, Columbus GA, and Columbus, MS.
This is directly related to the previous point. While those Southern ladies gathered in Spring, they would bring flowers to decorate the graves of their family members. This lead to some of the other traditions of what is now Memorial Day–in the custom of the South, decorating the graves was an event, and families would bring a picnic basket to spend the day with their departed. Those picnic afternoons eventually gave birth to the cookouts we are familiar with today.
Memorial Day and Decoration Day created two important poems.
The first is a poem directly about the Civil War. Written by Francis Miles Finch, The Blue and The Grey embodies the intent of Memorial Day, writing about remembrance and unity through the War. The second is In Flanders Field, written by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD, of the Canadian Army. In Flanders Field was written during a short reprieve from 17 straight days of performing medical care in the field. Looking upon a field of poppies, McCrae penned the poem, which gave rise to the tradition of wearing a red poppy on Memorial Day–a tradition that Canada continues on their Remembrance Day in December.
Memorial Day marks the beginning of summer.
Memorial Day fun fact: the first day of summer is not officially until June 21st, however, Memorial Day, for many marks the beginning of the summer season–a time to dig out the swimsuits, the grill, and sun hats. Memorial Day is widely considered the first day of summer, and what better way to celebrate than with a cookout.
Memorial Day is the first day to wear white again!
The tradition has varied roots, one of the more popular ideas is that white was worn by the wealthy while on summer vacation, becoming a signifier of both wealth and summer. This was adopted by others, and, losing the wealth bit, became a staple of summer wardrobe. This was solidified into tradition with summer clothes and summer colors being retired for an autumnal palette for wardrobes coming out after Labor Day. Few ascribe to this tradition anymore but Memorial Day was once the first day to wear white in the year.
Memorial Day is the largest single day motorcycle event in the United States.
Rolling Thunder, a one day event that has rolled over into a weekend, takes place every Memorial Day in Washington D.C. The first event was in 1988 when 2,500 bikers crossed the Memorial Bridge in Washington D.C. demanding the return of Prisoners of War, Missing in Action (POW/MIA), and protesting the United State’s involvement in the Vietnam War. Today hundreds of thousands of riders and spectators are expected at the Rolling Thunder Event. The organization took its name from the name of the operation of Carpet-Bombing the jungles of Vietnam and likens the sound of their motorcycles to the sounds of that operation.
Memorial Day has an official protocol.
According to Congress, the American flag should be flown for all national holidays. For Memorial Day, the flag should be flown at half-staff from dawn until noon in remembrance of the soldiers who have been lost to war. At noon, the flag is returned to full-staff. Additionally, in 2000, Congress passed the National Moment of Remembrance: at 3:00 local time, all activities are to cease, for a moment to remember specifically those who have given their lives for this country.