Memorial Day

Memorial Day 2020: what is celebrated and why Monday 25 May?

The exact dates of the first Memorial Day are unclear but a 150-year fixture in the US calendar will be marked on 25 May during the Covid-19 crisis.

Memorial Day 2020: what is celebrated and why Monday 25 May?
EDUARDO MUNOZ REUTERS

US citizens will mark Memorial Day on Monday 25 May, a national tradition that has been part of the annual calendar for over 150 years. While the ongoing coronavirus pandemic will require Americans to improvise to the situation, the unofficial start of summer is still expected to be observed across the country.

Memorial Day was first observed in 1868 after the end of the American Civil War. By some accounts a group of freed slaves in the defeated Confederacy held the first Memorial Day in 1865 in Charleston but a year later the federal authorities held a ceremony at Waterloo, New York and in 1966 it was enshrined as the birthplace of Memorial Day, becoming an official national holiday in 1971. However, some 25 locations have laid claim to be the source of the original Memorial Day; the tradition of the parade is widely accepted to have been inaugurated in Rochester, Wisconsin.

Originally known as Decoration Day, the holiday is held in remembrance of the US military personnel who have lost their lives in conflicts on home soil and abroad. The Civil War (1861-65) remains the bloodiest conflict in US history with some estimates of fatalities rising to 750,000.

Memorial Day was held on 30 May until 1970, that date being chosen by Union General John A. Logan in May 1868 because it did not coincide with the anniversary of any Civil War battle. From 1971 onwards it has been held on the final Monday of May.

Veterans Day, Armed Forces Day

People walk towards the beach at Ninth Ave. on May 23, 2020 in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Businesses, including amusement parks, have reopened for the Memorial Day holiday weekend after forced pandemic closures.

While Memorial Day is staged in remembrance of those who have lost their lives in action, Veterans Day is held on 11 November to honour all of the US servicemen and women who have been in the forces and were later discharged. It was originally known as Armistice Day, in line with European countries to mark the end of the First World War on 11 November, 1918, with the name being changed to Veterans Day in 1954.

Armed Forces Day, which takes place on the third Saturday in May, honours all current personnel across the six branches of the US military.