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Organizing the Things in your Life

Memorial Day: Honoring Sacrifice and Celebrating the Start of Summer

By May 26, 202410 Comments

Memorial Day is traditionally on the last Monday of May. In case you didn’t know, it holds a significant place in American history as a day of remembrance for those who died in military service to the United States. I was curious about how this day of remembrance came to be because I believe it has changed since its inception. I am taking a little bit of time today to honor the fallen, to share the history of Memorial Day in terms of this nation’s history, and to talk about how it has changed.

History of Memorial Day

The origins of Memorial Day date back to the aftermath of the Civil War. This war claimed more lives than any other in American history and necessitated the creation of our country’s first national cemeteries. Memorial Day was first called Decoration Day. It was established as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the fallen servicemen with flowers. On May 5, 1868, General John A. Logan, leader of an organization for Northern Civil War veterans, called for a nationwide day of remembrance later that month. The date, May 30, was chosen because it wasn’t the anniversary of any specific battle.

The first large observance was held that year at Arlington National Cemetery, near Washington, D.C. People decorated graves with flowers and recited prayers. Currently, different service groups like the Boy Scouts decorate the graves with small flags.  Memorial Day now honors all American military personnel who died in service, not just those from the Civil War.

Changes Over the Years

Memorial Day’s significance has become broader since we have been involved in so many wars: World War l, World War ll, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress. Its date was fixed as the last Monday in May, ensuring a three-day weekend for federal employees. This change created a convenient holiday period. It also contributed to the growing perception of Memorial Day as the unofficial start of summer.

Contemporary Observance

Memorial Day has changed from being a day which people devote to solemn remembrance. Many Americans still observe the day with ceremonies, visits to cemeteries and memorials, and moments of silence to honor fallen soldiers. It has also become a day marked by family gatherings, barbecues, parades, leisure activities and shopping.

Family and Friends Gatherings

Memorial Day weekend is often a time to gather with family and friends. The three-day weekend provides an opportunity for travel, relaxation, and enjoying outdoor activities. For many, it marks the beginning of the summer season. There are community events, sports activities, and the Indianapolis 500 auto race, which has been held on Memorial Day weekend since 1911.

Commercial Influence

Retailers have also embraced Memorial Day as a key sales event.  Sales and promotions around the holiday weekend draw shoppers and add to the festive atmosphere which is fun but which, I believe, takes our attention away from the true purpose of the day.

The core purpose of Memorial Day is to honor and remember the sacrifices of the nation’s military personnel.  I’m happy that many communities continue to hold parades, and various organizations and individuals participate in the National Moment of Remembrance. This moment encourages us to pause for a minute at 3:00 PM local time to reflect on the ultimate sacrifices made by those who served in the armed forces.


Memorial Day has been transformed from a day only of solemn remembrance to a broader celebration and shopping event. It is also the unofficial the beginning of summer. While its roots are deeply embedded in honoring military sacrifice, the way we observe Memorial Day today is vastly different from that of the past.

Diane N. Quintana is the owner of DNQ Solutions, LLC. She is an ADHD Organizing Specialist, a Hoarding Specialist, and a Chronic Disorganization Specialist. Diane is also an ICD Master Trainer, Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization, and Certified Professional Organizer. She is a co-owner of Release Repurpose Reorganize LLC based in Atlanta, Georgia. She specializes in residential and home-office organizing.


  • Thank you for sharing the history of Memorial Day, we honor everyone who served.

  • Pam says:

    This is interesting, isn’t it? So many of our holidays are now selling days. 🙁 It is good to have a day to honor those who have served and sacrificed for our country. 🙂 This song captures the dedication and sacrifice that so many have made:

  • Thank you for the history behind Memorial Day. One of my favorite things to do is to tune into the Memorial Day program from Washington D.C. We listened to it last night and it was inspirational.

  • Julie Bestry says:

    Thank you for writing this. I remember when many older adults still called it Decoration Day, and with World War I and II veterans in my family, I was carefully taught the significance of, and the differences between, Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day. (There’s also an Armed Forced Day for those currently serving.) Too often, I worry that the significance of Memorial Day is lost; perhaps it’s due to, as you note, coinciding with the start of summer. (Nobody feels all that celebratory or eager to cook out in mid-November for Veteran’s Day, after all.)

    In the past, almost everyone’s family was touched by war; everyone who went through the Civil War and the World Wars. By Vietnam, there began to be a distinct class division between families of those who served and those who did not due to a variety of deferment options, and since the end of the draft in 1973, when we went to an all-volunteer military, fewer and fewer Americans are in direct contact with veterans and have fewer (recent) family members who have died in battle. So, while the last 50 years, in particular, have seen a lessening in the solemnity of Memorial Day, the importance should not waver. I really appreciate you touching on this.

    • Diane Quintana says:

      Thank you, Julie. You are quite right – many fewer families have a direct connection to the military for this reason.

  • Thank you for sharing the history of Memorial Day. I’m grateful for the long weekend and the unofficial start to summer. I’ve been enjoying the weekend so far—I took my first swim of the season, had a lovely dinner and game night with friends, and took a long walk with my hubby.

    I’m also grateful for all the military people who gave their lives to serve our country.

  • Very interesting! I didn’t realize Memorial Day was relatively new. I live in Canada where we celebrate Victoria Day one week earlier. In terms of celebration, it sounds similar (it’s often referred to as the May 2-4 holiday, referring to the number of beers in a case, but it’s much older, dating back to 1845 to honour the birthday of Victoria, who was queen at the time. Thank you for inspiring me to look up that last fact!

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