Many, if not most, people confuse Memorial Day and Veteran’s day.  Some even confuse Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day and Labor Day.  I can’t count the number of individuals who have thanked me for my service on Labor day, and while I always answer the thanks with an appropriate reply, I also scratch my head.  Given the time of year, we figured it was time for some fun facts (maybe just facts) about Memorial Day.

1. The Civil War was incredibly uncivil

Memorial day started with the Civil War.  It doesn’t matter if it was Georgia, Pennsylvania, or Virgina that started it.  What’s important is that the tremendous loss of life in that war spawned Decoration Day which evolved into Memorial Day.  Decoration Day officially became Memorial Day in 1967 (unofficially in 1882) and was celebrated between 1864 and 1971 on the 30th of May.

2. In the 70s, people wanted a day off

In 1971, Memorial day was declared a national holiday and moved to the last Monday in May because long weekend!  Though the intent was for somber remembrance, the fact is that these days it’s about getting an extra day off to most people.  Many veterans lament this fact.  You’ll see posts on your Facebook wall that urge you to remember the fallen, not necessarily thank veterans.  By all means, thank veterans. Just don’t thank them because of Memorial Day.

3. Arlington, VA does the day right

If you want to get a feel for sacrifice and you live anywhere near Arlington National Cemetary in Arlington, VA, Memorial Day is a fine time to visit.  They have a ceremony there which pays homage to the over 400,000 graves that will awe you.  Even if you don’t live there, plan to go at some point.  It won’t be like other bucket list items that involve revelry, but it’s one that should be on the list anyway.

4. It took a while to become a standard

Northern states adopted the holiday far more readily than southern states (for obvious reasons).  It wasn’t until after WWI when the purpose for the holiday was expanded to include all of the fallen that the south got onboard.  These days, it’s important to remember the vast numbers of young men and women who made that sacrifice, for better or worse, in all of the wars the US has fought.

5. A moment of silence

It’s actually a matter of law that everyone stop for a one-minute reflection on the sacrifices of our fallen soldiers.  The National Moment of Remembrance Act was passed in 2000 and requires that people stop moving for one minute at 3:00 PM so as to meditate and remember.  Set your alarm for 2:55 PM on Monday and prepare a little speech.  After the minute is up, tip your beverage and offer a toast.  It’s the right thing to do before gorging on brats and burgers.

6. Memorial Day Traditions abound

It’s traditional to raise the flag briskly to full staff and lower it slowly to half-staff until noon.  Some people, mostly in the south, eat a picnic meal in or near a cemetery.  From the poem “In Flander’s Field” by Lt.Col. John McCrae, it’s customary to wear a poppy on the lapel.  The PGA and NASCAR have annual events which bear the Memorial moniker.  The president, and every president since Garfield, attends the aforementioned ceremony at Arlington National Cemetary and gives a speech.  There is also a Memorial concert on the lawn of the Whitehouse.  There are many more traditions, but we cannot more highly recommend seeing them in person.

7. The gist of the whole thing

The takeaway should be this.  Memorial Day is for remembrance of the fallen.  How you do it is far less important than actually doing it.  Barbecues are a good idea.  Toasts at the barbecue are a good idea.  Time with family and friends is a good idea.  Thank veterans later.  Remember the fallen now.

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