Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day because it was a time set aside to honor the nation's Civil War dead by decorating their graves. It was first widely observed on May 30, 1868.
ORIGINALLY CALLED DECORATION DAY
General John A. Logan, a prominent Civil War veteran, urged a nationwide tribute on May 30, 1868. His call was for flowers to adorn the graves of fallen comrades across the country, honoring their heroic sacrifice during the Civil War.
In 1966, Congress and President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, N.Y., the "birthplace" of Memorial Day. Here, a ceremony on May 5, 1866, honored local veterans who had fought in the Civil War.
In December 2000, Congress passed a law requiring Americans to pause at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day to remember and honor the fallen.
A tradition of wearing red poppies to honor the fallen traces back to a World War I poem, “In Flanders Fields,” which describes a scene of poppies growing among soldiers' graves.
Several Southern states continue to set aside a day for honoring the Confederate dead, which is usually called Confederate Memorial Day.
CONFEDERATE MEMORIAL DAY
When the holiday first began, it was meant to honor only those soldiers who had died during the American Civil War and only for the Union. It wasn't until after World War I that it was expanded to include those who died in all American wars.
The first national celebration of Memorial Day (then known as Decoration Day) took place May 30, 1868, at Arlington National Cemetery. It was presided over by Ulysses S. Grant and included a speech by James A. Garfield.
For many Americans, Memorial Day also marks the beginning of the summer season, and many traditional foods and dishes are associated with it, such as BBQ, potato salad, and more.
An event called Rolling Thunder began in 1988. Thousands of veterans, on their motorcycles, ride through Washington D.C. to honor POWs and MIAs.