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Memorial Day in the United States

Memorial Day is observed on the last Monday of May. It was formerly known as Decoration Day and commemorates all men and women who have died in military service for the United States. Many people visit cemeteries and memorials on Memorial Day and it is traditionally seen as the start of the summer season.

Is Memorial Day a Public Holiday?

Memorial Day is a public holiday. It is a day off for the general population, and schools and most businesses are closed.

Arlington National Cemetary.

©bigstockphoto.com/BenC

What Do People Do?

It is traditional to fly the flag of the United States at half staff from dawn until noon. Many people visit cemeteries and memorials, particularly to honor those who have died in military service. Many volunteers place an American flag on each grave in national cemeteries. Memorial Day is combined with Jefferson Davis' Birthday in Mississippi.

Memorial Day has become less of an occasion of remembrance. Many people choose to hold picnics, sports events and family gatherings on this weekend. This day is traditionally seen as the start of the summer season for cultural events. For the fashion conscious, it is seen as acceptable to wear white clothing, particularly shoes from Memorial Day until Labor Day. However, fewer and fewer people follow this rule and many wear white clothing throughout the year.

Public Life

Memorial Day is a federal holiday. All non-essential Government offices are closed, as are schools, businesses and other organizations. Most public transit systems do not run on their regular schedule. Many people see Memorial Day weekend as an opportunity to go on a short vacation or visit family or friends. This can cause some congestion on highways and at airports.

Background

Memorial Day started as an event to honor Union soldiers who had died during the American Civil War. It was inspired by the way people in the Southern states honored their dead. After World War I, it was extended to include all men and women who died in any war or military action.

Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day. The current name for this day did not come into use until after World War II. Decoration Day and then Memorial Day used to be held on May 30, regardless of the day of the week, on which it fell. In 1968, the Uniform Holidays Bill was passed as part of a move to use federal holidays to create three-day weekends. This meant that that, from 1971, Memorial Day holiday has been officially observed on the last Monday in May. However, it took a longer period for all American states to recognize the new date.

Memorial Day Observances

YearWeekdayDateNameHoliday TypeArea
2010MonMay 31Memorial DayFederal Holiday 
2011MonMay 30Memorial DayFederal Holiday 
2012MonMay 28Memorial DayFederal Holiday 
2013MonMay 27Memorial DayFederal Holiday 
2014MonMay 26Memorial DayFederal Holiday 
2015MonMay 25Memorial DayFederal Holiday 
2016MonMay 30Memorial DayFederal Holiday 
2017MonMay 29Memorial DayFederal Holiday 
2018MonMay 28Memorial DayFederal Holiday 
2019MonMay 27Memorial DayFederal Holiday 
2020MonMay 25Memorial DayFederal Holiday 

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