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Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day and was initiated to honor the soldiers of the Union and Confederate armies who died during the American Civil War.
Celebrations honoring Civil War heroes started the year after the war ended. The establishment of a public holiday was meant to unify the celebration as a national day of remembrance instead of a holiday celebrated separately by the Union and Confederate states. By the late 19th century, the holiday became known as Memorial Day and was expanded to include the deceased veterans of all the wars fought by American forces. In 1971, Memorial Day became a federal holiday.
The original national celebration of Decoration Day took place on May 30, 1868. When Memorial Day became a federal holiday, it was given the floating date of the last Monday in May. Since many companies close for the holiday, Memorial Day weekend is three days long for most people. It is the unofficial beginning of the summer vacation season that lasts until the first Monday in September, which is Labor Day.
During the Memorial Day weekend, many families visit war memorials and military cemeteries to honor the dead veterans especially if they include relatives. At Washington, D.C.’s Arlington Cemetery, members of the U.S. Army and volunteers place small United States flags at exactly the same spot at each tombstone. The nationwide display of patriotism is touching and inspiring.