News

The Meaning of Memorial Day

The three-day weekend is about more than barbecues, blockbusters and the beach

May 24, 2013
DANIEL BENDJY—GETTY IMAGES

Memorial Day honors the men and women who serve our country.

Technically, summer doesn't start until June 21. But many people consider Memorial Day to be the unofficial start of the season. This year, we celebrate the holiday on May 27. Many families will heat up the grill, head to the beach or take in a big blockbuster movie. But Memorial Day has the word "memorial" in it for a reason.

Soldier Donnie Terrell, a member of the U.S. Army, carries his daughter Hailey during a parade at MacDill Air Force Base, in Tampa, Florida.

EDMUND D. FOUNTAIN—TAMPA BAY TIMES/AP
Soldier Donnie Terrell, a member of the U.S. Army, carries his daughter Hailey during a parade at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida.

The holiday got started on May 30, 1868, when Union General John A. Logan declared the day an occasion to decorate the graves of Civil War soldiers. Twenty years later, the name was changed to Memorial Day. On May 11, 1950, Congress passed a resolution requesting that the President issue a proclamation calling on Americans to observe each Memorial Day as a day of prayer for permanent peace and designating a period on that day when the people of the United States might unite in prayer. President Richard M. Nixon declared Memorial Day a federal holiday in 1971. Memorial Day is now observed on the last Monday of May. It is an occasion to honor the men and women who died in all wars.

Remembering Those Who Served

It is customary to mark Memorial Day by visiting graveyards and war monuments. One of the biggest Memorial Day traditions is for the President or Vice President to give a speech and lay a wreath on soldiers' graves in the largest national cemetery, Arlington National Cemetery, in Virginia. Most towns have local Memorial Day celebrations. Here are some ways you can honor the men and women who serve our country:

- Put flags or flowers on the graves of men and women who served in wars.

- Fly the U.S. flag at half-staff until noon.

- Visit monuments dedicated to soldiers, sailors and marines.

- Participate in a National Moment of Remembrance at 3 p.m. local time.

- March in a parade.


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