The holiday that we celebrate with barbeques and fireworks began much differently than that. I also know that it is a popular day to remember our veterans, and that is admirable, but that is not what today is about. Today is about memorializing and remembering those men and women in our armed forces who died in service to their country.
Memorial Day began as Decoration Day in 1861 during the Civil War and continued with the commemoration and dedication of the Battle of Gettysburg Battlefield Cemetery. There were annual decoration day activities with potluck picnics at individual cemeteries. Until 1868, many of these days were separated into Union and Confederate observations.
The name Memorial Day was changed from Decoration Day in 1882 but didn’t become popular until after World War II. It was celebrated on May 30th or the first time in 1868 (beginning in the North) and continued on that date until 1971 when the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, passed in 1968 became federal law. It wasn’t adopted by all of the states until 1974.
As a personal aside, my mother’s birthday was May 30th, so she was disappointed by this change in holiday dates, although on some years instead of having her only birthday off, she got a whole weekend, which she definitely enjoyed!
The Confederate Memorial Day observance began in 1866 and eventually became a commemoration of the Lost Cause as it shared the spotlight with the American nationalism.
With the nationalized and reinternment of soldiers at both Gettysburg and Arlington National Cemeteries, Memorial Day in May soon became the norm and the annual event, the date chosen both because it was not the anniversary of a particular battle and because flowers would be in bloom and could be placed on the graves of the fallen servicemen.
Memorial Day is observed on the last Monday of May.