Memorial Day in May ranks among the most important holidays in the US. It was instituted to commemorate America’s fallen veterans, and is celebrated with a wide variety of events. Just like on the 10 other federal holidays, many institutions are closed on that day.
We will tell you all about the history of this holiday, when it takes place, and which celebrations you can attend. In addition, you will learn more about Memorial Day Sales and their many bargains.
Memorial Day – History and Meaning
As the name suggests, Memorial Day is a date of remembrance for all US Military personnel that died while fulfilling their duty. This sets it apart from Veterans Day, which caters to all former US soldiers, dead or alive.
The history behind Memorial Day is complex, as this holiday had many predecessors. Before and during the American Civil War, for instance, it was already a custom to decorate the graves of fallen soldiers with flowers.
Historians have identified 25 predecessors of Memorial Day – many of which took place in former Confederate states like Virginia, Mississippi and South Carolina. Oftentimes, these events were organized by widows and women groups.
Meanwhile, the North had remembrance days of its own, even though they were not institutionalized yet. Decoration Day, for example, was celebrated by 27 states from 1886 onwards.
In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson tried to end the discussions about the birthplace of Memorial Day. He declared Waterloo, New York as the official place. However, who celebrated the first Memorial Day, and where, is still a matter of debate. In 1967, Decoration Day was renamed Memorial Day, and one year later, this holiday received its official date, which is still valid today.
There is also a Confederate Memorial Day that is only celebrated in the Southern states and serves to commemorate the fallen soldiers of the Confederation. This holiday, albeit still officially recognized, has become more and more controversial, and public adherence is on the decline.
Memorial Day – Date
Memorial Day marks the unofficial beginning of summer in the USA, and takes place on the last Monday in May each year. This means, it moves between May 25 and 31.
In the next years, Memorial Day falls on the following dates:
- Memorial Day 2022: May 30
- Memorial Day 2023: May 29
- Memorial Day 2024: May 27
- Memorial Day 2025: May 26
The month of May was not picked randomly, by the way: US general John A. Logan suggested this month so that citizens would be able to pick fresh flowers and lay them on soldiers’ graves.
Not all veterans, however, were happy with the decision to place Memorial Day on a Monday. Many feared that people would use the long weekend for “games, races and revelry” instead of solemn remembrance.
Memorial Day – Celebrations and Ceremonies
Memorial Day is one of the most emotional holidays in the USA and has a special meaning for patriots across the country – just like Veterans Day and Independence Day. This can be seen in the following celebrations and ceremonies:
Volunteers and families honor their fallen soldiers by placing flowers and American flags on their graves. On the largest scale, this can be witnessed at the National Military Cemetery of Arlington. Grave Markers, medals with military symbols, also enjoy huge popularity on this day. In additions, there are ceremonies in which speakers thank America’s fallen heroes for their service to the country.
If you are traveling on Memorial Day, you might see flag ceremonies that follow a strict protocol: At dawn, the US flag is raised quickly before being lowered to half mast. It remains in this position until noon when it is brought to the top again.
National Moment of Remembrance
An integral part of Memorial Day is the National Moment of Remembrance: At 3 pm sharp, all Americans are encouraged to stop their activities and observe a moment of silence to commemorate the fallen soldiers. This way, the original meaning of the holiday is preserved. Major League baseball games are halted at 3 pm, and Amtrak trains all over the country are sounding their horns.
At the center of the festivities are parades that are held in the entire US. Most often, active soldiers march alongside veterans of past wars. If you look closely, you might also see red poppies on the servicemens’ uniforms: Since World War 1, these flowers have been an official symbol of Memorial Day.
The oldest continuous Memorial Day parade is held in Ironton, Ohio. It has taken place there since 1868. As of now, Washington, DC and New York share the title of America’s biggest Memorial Day parade.
Memorial Day – Opening Hours
Memorial Day is a federal holiday celebrated in all states of the USA, so non-essential institutions are closed on that day. This includes post offices, for example, so mail is not delivered on Memorial Day. The stock exchange takes a break, and federal employees receive a day off. Banks are also closed on Memorial Day.
This is not the case for restaurants and shops, which are allowed to stay open. In fact, many businesses use the occasion to attract customers, as we will show in the following section.
A tip for all motorists: Prior to the long Memorial Day weekend, highways in the US get fairly crowded. Most traffic occurs on Thursday and Friday – something you should keep in mind if you want to travel by car.
Memorial Day Sales – Shopping Events with special Offers
Many Americans use the long Memorial Day weekend to go shopping. Stores have reacted to this trend and are offering many bargains at this time. Because Memorial Day marks the unofficial beginning of summer, there are many sales on outdoor articles like yard furniture, grills and lawnmowers.
Household appliances, mattresses, clothing, TVs and laptops can also be had for a fraction of their price on Memorial Day – for instance, at shops like Walmart, Best Buy or Home Depot.
If you really want to save money, you should keep an eye out for Memorial Day Coupons. Nowadays, you do not have to cut them out of magazines. Instead, you can simply download them from websites like savings.com, retailmenot.com or groupon.com.
Memorial Day is a popular travel date. Thus, many hotels in the USA offer special deals – for example, in Florida. However, you should book well in advance, as hotels fill up quickly on the Memorial Day weekend. If you like it more spontaneous, though, you can still enjoy plenty of offers at restaurants all across the country.
Less relevant for vacationers, but an integral part of Memorial Day are offers for veterans and active servicemen. In many museums and theme-parks, for example, they receive free entrance for themselves and their families – in addition to discounts at shops and restaurants.
Memorial Day FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions
What is Memorial Day?
Memorial Day is an official federal holiday that is celebrated by all states of the USA. It serves to commemorate US servicemen who died while fulfilling their duty.
When is Memorial Day?
Memorial Day takes place on the last Monday of May every year. It forms the last day of the long Memorial Day weekend and also marks the unofficial beginning of summer in the US.
How is Memorial Day celebrated?
Among the ceremonies are the decoration of soldiers’ graves, as well as parades, concerts, speeches and a moment of silence at 3 pm. Shopping is another popular activity on Memorial Day, as many shops offer special sales and discounts.
Which institutions are closed on Memorial Day?
On Memorial Day, all federal institutions, post offices and banks are closed. Most shops and restaurants, however, stay open.