10 Interesting Facts about Memorial Day

As the unofficial beginning of summer, many Americans will celebrate Memorial Day weekend with barbecues, 5 Ks, and outdoor picnics.

Others will head to cemeteries to honor and remember their loved ones who sacrificed their lives for the sake of our country.

Civilians sometimes confuse Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day. Veteran’s Day celebrates all the men and women who have served in the U.S. military. Memorial Day honors the men and women who died while serving in the military.

Along with this misconception, there are many other things Americans don’t know about Memorial Day. 

Here are 10 interesting facts about Memorial Day to help you recognize the importance of this federal holiday.

#1 It Hasn’t Always Been Called Memorial Day

 Memorial Day

Originally, Memorial Day was called Decoration Day. The title Decoration Day came from how people spent the day – decorating the graves of soldiers with flowers and flags.¹ 

This is a tradition that continues today with 260,000 graves at Arlington National Cemetery being decorated with American flags on Memorial Day.² 

#2 There Is Debate about the Birthplace of Memorial Day

Memorial Day

History books record the official birthplace of Memorial Day as Waterloo, New York.

However, 25 other American cities claim to be the birthplace of the holiday, including Charleston, South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia.³ 

This is still debated today. 

#3 The Date Was Chosen for a Specific Reason

Memorial Day

According to The History Channel, “On May 5, 1868, General John A. Logan, leader of an organization for Northern Civil War veterans, called for a nationwide day of remembrance later that month. ‘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,’ he proclaimed.”⁴ 

May 30 was chosen in particular because it was not the anniversary of any battles. 

#4 But Now the Date Changes Every Year

Memorial Day

The last fact may have caught you by surprise because this year Memorial Day falls on May 31.

After originally being celebrated on May 30 for decades, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act in 1968, designating the last Monday in May for Memorial Day. 

The reason for this act was to allow Memorial Day to become a three-day weekend for federal employees.⁵ 

The law went into effect in 1971, which is also when Memorial Day officially became a federal holiday.

#5 Memorial Day Originally Honored Lives Lost during the Civil War

Memorial Day

Decoration Day was originally intended to honor the lives of those who died fighting in the Civil War.

Additionally, Southern states hosted their own Decoration Day, known as Confederate Memorial Day. Some Southern states continue to recognize Confederate Memorial Day.

However, after World War I, Memorial Day grew to honor all military members who died serving in any military conflicts. 

#6 U.S. Presidents Mark the Occasion

Memorial Day

It’s customary for the current U.S. president to deliver a speech at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery. 

President Ulysses S. Grant gave the first Memorial Day speech at Arlington National Cemetery. The speech lasted almost two hours.⁶ 

#7 A Moment of Remembrance Is Held at 3 P.M.

Memorial Day

There is a law in place that requires Americans to remember those military members whose lives were lost.

According to the White House Commission on Remembrance, “The National Moment of Remembrance, established by Congress, asks Americans wherever they are at 3 p.m., local time, on Memorial Day to pause in an act of national unity (duration: one minute). The time 3 p.m. was chosen because it is the time when most Americans are enjoying their freedoms on the national holiday.”⁷ 

#8 Memorial Day Parades Are a Well-Loved Tradition

Memorial Day

Many American families will spend some time enjoying a parade this Memorial Day. This is an ongoing tradition.

The Ironton-Lawrence Memorial Day Parade in Ohio, which started in 1868, is the longest continuously running parade, but the first Memorial Day parade was held in Doylestown, Pennsylvania in 1867.⁸ 

For the largest Memorial Day parades in the country, head to the National Memorial Day Parade in Washington, D.C., or the Little Neck-Douglaston Memorial Day Parade in Queens, New York.

#9 Memorial Day Unofficially Begins Summer Travel Season

Memorial Day

While the official start of summer begins with the June solstice (June 20, 2021), many Americans treat Memorial Day as the unofficial start of summer.

The combination of warmer weather and a three-day weekend also gives way to one of the busiest travel weekends of the year.

AAA predicts, “From May 27 through May 31, more than 37 million people are expected to travel 50 miles or more from home, an increase of 60% from last year when only 23 million traveled.”⁹ 

#10 A Massive Number of Hot Dogs and Beer Are Consumed Memorial Day Weekend

Memorial Day

Memorial Day is often associated with outdoor picnics and barbecues.

So, it shouldn’t be too surprising to discover that 60% of Americans plan to cook out for Memorial Day or that Americans consume a ton of hot dogs and beer over the three-day weekend.

818 hot dogs are eaten every second during the summer, beginning with Memorial Day.

Plus, Memorial Day is the second-highest-grossing weekend for beer sales in the United States, only behind the Fourth of July. 

Fortunately, there are more than 120 running races that take place on Memorial Day so folks can run off the calories they consume over the holiday weekend.¹⁰ 

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  1. https://www.history.com/topics/holidays/memorial-day-history
  2. https://wallethub.com/blog/memorial-day-facts/21363
  3. https://www.townandcountrymag.com/leisure/arts-and-culture/a6359/history-of-memorial-day/
  4. https://www.history.com/topics/holidays/memorial-day-history
  5. https://www.history.com/topics/holidays/memorial-day-history
  6. https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/27858/10-things-remember-about-memorial-day
  7. https://web.archive.org/web/20061229162219/http://www.remember.gov/MomentofRemembrance/tabid/54/Default.aspx
  8. https://usveteransmagazine.com/2018/05/memorial-day-5-things-didnt-know-holiday/
  9. https://newsroom.aaa.com/2021/05/memorial-day-holiday-travel-to-rebound-to-more-than-37-million/
  10. https://wallethub.com/blog/memorial-day-facts/21363
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