Monday, May 27, 2013

Why we celebrate Memorial Day

Originally Memorial Day was Decoration Day, a designated ritual of decorating the graves of war dead. It began more or less informally before the Civil War, but after the war it became a more institutionalized but still unofficial observance, usually held on May 30. The name Memorial Day was first used in 1882. Not all the states joined in. It wasn't until 1967 that Congress made Memorial Day a national holiday and put it on the last Monday in May to create a three-day weekend. [Congress also created three-day weekends with Washington's Birthday (February), Columbus Day (October) and Veterans Day. (October)] The law took effect in 1971. [In 1978, Veterans Day was moved back to November 11.] An early annual Memorial Day-like observance was Reunion Day in Boston, The 1896 celebration was depicted in Henry Sandham's painting The March of Time (above), in which nationally known Civil War-era figures were shown, including General William Tecumseh Sherman, Colonel Benjamin Harrison, and Julia Ward Stowe. The artist was a Canadian but he lived in Boston and painted many American historical scenes. Happy Memorial Day!

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