What is Memorial Day? In modern times, this holiday is often just viewed as a vaguely patriotic day that is an excuse for barbecues and family gatherings. However, its original meaning was far more serious.

Memorial Day has its roots in the American Civil War. This war was the deadliest conflict in all of United States history, with almost everyone losing at least one person they knew. The nation reacted to this traumatic turn of events by making an effort to remember their lost loved ones. Many cities begin to start promoting various tributes to fallen soldiers. Depending on location, this event could include anything from annual plays to regular cleaning of soldier’s graves.

A small town called Waterloo, New York had a particularly big role in creating Memorial Day because they were the first area to start having an official Civil War remembrance day. The town celebrated this remembrance day by honoring local veterans, decorating soldier’s graves, and flying patriotic flags.

As more and more areas got involved with Memorial Day celebrations, a tradition was born. This day was called Decoration Day, and it was celebrated in May since that was the month the Civil War ended. To try to avoid having a commemoration day that favored one side over the other, General John A. Logan recommended May 30 as the date because no specific battle was fought on that day.

For a long time, Memorial Day was just about the Civil War. However, after the massive tragedy of World War I, the holiday was changed to a holiday to celebrate all American military personnel who lost their lives fighting in a war. Throughout the next few decades, Memorial Day continued to be on May 30. However, in 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. This act designated Memorial Day as a federal holiday occurring on the last Monday of May, so it allowed people to have a three day weekend.

In modern times, Memorial Day traditions have turned into a variety of wonderful events, ranging from special sales for veterans to patriotic parades. Some people take advantage of the long weekend for holidays, but for others, it is still a somber event meant to thank fallen troops for their sacrifices.