Cristina is a Florida native and Realtor by trade. She enjoys writing about travel, real estate, and several other interesting topics.
What Is Memorial Day?
Memorial Day is a holiday in the United States that honors the soldiers who died serving in the military. The holiday is observed on the last Monday of May each year. Celebrations take many forms—parades, family gatherings, backyard barbecues, and visiting cemeteries where loved ones are interred. A national moment of remembrance occurs at 3:00 p.m. local time.
Originally known as Decoration Day, Memorial Day has been celebrated since the 1800s after the Civil War. It became an official holiday in 1971. Early celebrations included decorating the graves of soldiers with flowers and flags giving rise to the holiday's original name. These first celebrations also included prayers and poem recitations.
Earliest Memorial Day Celebrations
The first Memorial Day celebration is believed to have been organized by freed slaves in Charleston, South Carolina, less than a month after the end of the Civil War. On May 1, 1865, more than 10,000 freedmen, women, and children staged a parade around the local racetrack to honor the Union soldiers who died in the city. However, this early celebration was not discovered until 1996, so a different city was named the official birthplace of Memorial Day.
Waterloo, New York, celebrated its first Memorial Day on May 5, 1866. The community closed all the stores and businesses, and residents decorated the soldiers' graves with flowers and flags.
However, it wasn't until 1868 that a nationwide day of remembrance was organized for May 30th of that year. General James Garfield gave a speech to 5,000 people at Arlington Cemetary, and the graves of 20,000 soldiers were decorated. Other communities around the northern parts of the United States continued these celebrations. The southern states continued to honor their fallen at the beginning of May. This tradition ended after World War I.
Modern Day Memorial Day Celebrations
Americans celebrate Memorial Day in so many ways! As mentioned, some families visit the graves of their loved ones. Those who do continue the earliest traditions of decorating gravesites with flowers and flags. Today, some also leave photographs or wreaths.
Most Americans, however, celebrate in more light-hearted fashions. Many families hold barbecues and spend the day with family and friends. Others spend the day at the beach, a favorite lake, or a nearby park. As a federal holiday, most offices are closed, so many people have a three-day weekend.
Another popular activity on Memorial Day weekend is shopping. Most major retailers hold Memorial Day sales and offer big discounts on big-ticket items such as furniture, electronics, and even cars.
Finally, concerts have become a big hit on Memorial Day weekend in recent years. While the National Memorial Day Concert has been an annual event at the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. since 1989, other concerts have also popped up around the country. Many cities have free concerts, ranging from high school bands performing to nationally-known artists and three-day music festivals.
National Memorial Day Celebrations
Three major events stand out as national celebrations on Memorial Day. The National Memorial Day Concert mentioned above takes place at the U.S. Capitol and is televised and broadcast online. The National Memorial Day Parade features marching bands and other guests worldwide and lasts three hours. The parade route takes participants along the National Mall and is also televised. The third event lasts one minute. It is the "moment of remembrance" held at 3:00 p.m. local time. Additionally, the veterans' cemeteries around the country hold celebrations.
Quotes About Memorial Day
Today, many officials and celebrities give speeches on Memorial Day. These have given us many great quotes that honor our fallen heroes. Still, some of the best quotes about Memorial Day were delivered decades ago. These quotes continue to embody what Memorial Day means to the United States.
1. “Never was so much owed by so many to so few.” -Winston Churchill
2. "There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured with what is right in America." -William Clinton
3. "No man is entitled to the blessings of freedom unless he be vigilant in its preservation." -General Douglas MacArthur
4. "Heroism doesn't always happen in a burst of glory. Sometimes small triumphs and large hearts change the course of history." -Mary Roach
5. "It doesn't take a hero to order men into battle. It takes a hero to be one of those men who goes into battle." -Norman Schwarzkopf
6. "It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God such men lived." -George S. Patton
7. “America without her soldiers would be like God without His angels.” -Claudia Pemberton
8. "Our flag does not fly because the wind moves it. It flies with the last breath of each soldier who died protecting it." -Unknown
9. "Heroism is not only in the man, but in the occasion." -Calvin Coolidge
10. "Patriotism is not short, frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime." -Adlai Stevenson
11. "A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself." -Joseph Campbell
12. "137 years later, Memorial Day remains one of America's most cherished patriotic observances. The spirit of this day has not changed - it remains a day to honor those who died defending our freedom and democracy." -Doc Hastings
13. "This nation will remain the land of the free only so long as it is the home of the brave." -Elmer Davis
14. "Ceremonies are important. But our gratitude has to be more than visits to the troops, and once-a-year Memorial Day ceremonies. We honor the dead best by treating the living well." -Jennifer M. Granholm
15. "The brave die never, though they sleep in dust, their courage nerves a thousand living men." -Minot Savage
16. "As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words but to live by them." -John F. Kennedy
17. "The patriot's blood is the seed of freedom's tree." -Thomas Campbell
18. “…And if words cannot repay the debt we owe these men, surely with our actions we must strive to keep faith with them and with the vision that led them to battle and to final sacrifice." -Ronald Reagan
19. "And they who for their country die shall fill an honored grave, for glory lights the soldier's tomb, and beauty weeps the brave." -Joseph Rodman Drake
20. "Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid. They have earned our undying gratitude. America will never forget their sacrifices." -Harry S. Truman
21. “This is the day we pay homage to all those who didn’t come home. This is not Veterans Day, it’s not a celebration, it is a day of solemn contemplation over the cost of freedom.” -Tamra Bolton
22. "Those who have long enjoyed such privileges as we enjoy forget in time that men have died to win them." -Franklin Roosevelt
23. “I believe our flag is more than just cloth and ink. It is a universally recognized symbol that stands for liberty, and freedom. It is the history of our nation, and it’s marked by the blood of those who died defending it.” -John Thune
Cristina Vanthul (author) from Florida on May 14, 2021:
Yes, I agree, Peggy. Not only on Memorial Day. Thank you so much for reading and your lovely comment.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on May 14, 2021:
We should always honor our fallen heroes. I enjoyed reading these many good quotes.