Memorial Day Facts: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Mary Beth Burns

Mary Beth has taught 1st, 4th and 5th grade and has a specialist degree in Educational Leadership. She is currently an assistant principal.

While there are many Americans who celebrate Memorial Day every year, most people fail to remember the true meaning of the holiday. Learn about why we celebrate and how the holiday got started, and get some ideas for how you can celebrate Memorial Day.

Why Do We Celebrate Memorial Day?

Memorial Day is more than a long weekend or a day off of school. Unfortunately, the true meaning of Memorial Day tends to get forgotten as Americans celebrate the holiday by having grill outs, going to the beach or taking advantage of great shopping deals.

However, Memorial Day has the word memorial in it for a reason. Memorial means to remember an important something or someone in a special way. In this case, Memorial Day is a holiday that is meant to honor the men and women who have died while fighting for their country. This includes, but is not limited to, the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard military men and women. You can choose to honor a specific loved one who lost their life in service, or honor the entire group as a whole.

How Did Memorial Day Get Started?

One of the earliest Memorial Days at a Civil War monument
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Memorial Day became an official national holiday when Richard Nixon declared it in 1971. However, Memorial Day had been celebrated for many years before. Unofficially, the concept of Memorial Day began on May 30, 1868, right after the Civil War. Union General John A. Logan announced that the day was a special occasion for decorating the graves of Civil War soldiers with flags, flowers or other items. After this tradition continued for twenty years, the holiday came to be known as Memorial Day. In 1950, Congress requested that the President call on Americans to reflect on Memorial Day and spend the day praying for peace for their country, then 20 years later Nixon made it a federal holiday.

When Is Memorial Day?

Today, Memorial Day is observed on the last Monday of May. Originally, it was celebrated on May 30th because it was not an anniversary date of any particular major battle. Even though summer does not officially begin until June 21st, many people associate Memorial Day with the start of summer because of the outdoor activities that people engage in to celebrate it.

How Can I Celebrate Memorial Day?

President Obama laying a wreath for a soldier
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