Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Memorial Day: The History of a Holiday

After reading this blog post by Ken Davis, author of Don't Know Much About History, I thought about my father--a World War II veteran who fought in the Battle of the Bulge. Memorial Day was a solemn day for him. He was always shocked that stores were open and that the day had turned into a sales event, "I will never understand it. A 20% off sale is not a tribute to those who gave their lives for this country." You might want to read this one to your students to remind them that Memorial Day is more than just the start of summer and a chance to get an extra 10% off.

Memorial Day: A History Lesson

Mother’s Day has just passed. Memorial Day is around the corner. At least on the surface, the two occasions would seem to have little in common besides falling in May. But there is an intriguing connection between the two that comes through American history’s bloodiest chapter, the Civil War.

Memorial Day was born in 1868, in the Civil War’s wake, as Decoration Day. It was a day set aside to honor fallen soldiers by “decorating” their graves with fresh flowers –an occasion originally fixed on May 30, when the most flowers are in bloom. For years, it was a profoundly solemn occasion that kept alive the passions of the war that had killed more than 600,000 Americans –an astonishing tally that equaled some two percent of the population at the time (a comparable loss today would mean 6 million dead). In 1882, it was renamed Memorial Day.

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