Although Memorial Day weekend is filled with barbeques, pool parties, and the celebration of the start of Summer, Memorial Day is a day to honor the courageous men and women who have died in service to our country. The holiday was originally known as “Decoration Day,” and originated as early as the late 1860s after the end of the Civil War. Americans throughout the country honored fallen soldiers by decorating their graves and reciting prayers. One of the earliest celebrations was planned by formerly enslaved people in Charleston, South Carolina in 1865, although the federal government officially recognizes Waterloo, New York as the birthplace of Memorial Day. The holiday was originally observed on May 30th, but in 1971, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which changed the holiday to the last Monday in May. In December 2000, Congress passed a law requiring Americans to pause at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day to remember and honor the fallen, although many people do not know of this law.
Memorial Day is commemorated each year at Arlington National Cemetery by placing a small American flag on each grave. Traditionally, the President or Vice President lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.