What is Memorial Day and do we celebrate it in the UK?

Flags Headstones Los Angeles Memorial Cemetery

American flags adorn the headstones of US soldiers placed by Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts at Los Angeles National Cemetery (Image: Getty)

Memorial Day occurs on the last Monday in May each year and is one of three annual dates honoring the United States military.

This is specifically dedicated to service members killed in action, although there is also a day for veterans (Veteranentag) and all currently serving officers (Armed Forces Day).

Memorial Day is basically the equivalent of Remembrance Day, which is observed on November 11th in the UK.

It’s a federal holiday in America – which is essentially the US equivalent of a bank holiday.

But when was the first Memorial Day and is it celebrated elsewhere in the world?

When was the first Memorial Day and do we celebrate it in the UK?


Boston Common in Massachusetts covered in flags on Memorial Day (Image: Getty)

It is believed that Memorial Day began in 1868 when it was celebrated on May 30 – and was known as Day of Decoration.

But the origin of the day – and the meaning of the date – is a bit of a mystery.

This is because the date has shifted so many times and has been confused by the fact that in 1966 Congress erroneously claimed the tradition began 100 years ago in Waterloo, New York.

One historian has posited that the tradition began in 1865 after freed African Americans held a parade of 10,000 people to honor 257 dead Union soldiers whose remains they had reburied from a common grave in a Confederate prison camp.

That same year, the federal government began establishing national military cemeteries for the Union war dead.

The US Army remains one of the main sources of national pride in America (Image: Getty)

By the 20th century, several different days that had sprung up across the country became Memorial Day.

Some claim the date was chosen because no battle took place on that date, while others say it was chosen as the optimal time when flowers are in bloom.

Only after the Second World War did Memorial Day replace the title of Decoration Day. It was only made an official name by federal law in 1967.

On June 28, 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act which moved four bank holidays, including Memorial Day, from their traditional dates to a specific Monday to create a convenient three-day weekend like British bank holidays.

The change moved Memorial Day from its traditional May 30 date to the last Monday in May.

The law went into effect at the federal level in 1971. After initial confusion and an unwillingness to comply, all 50 states adopted the Congressional date change within a few years.

In the UK we don’t celebrate Memorial Day as, like many countries, we have our own dates – 11th November, Remembrance Day and Remembrance Sunday.

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https://metro.co.uk/2022/05/30/what-is-memorial-day-and-do-we-celebrate-it-in-the-uk-16732283/ What is Memorial Day and do we celebrate it in the UK?

Justin Scacco

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