Many Americans see Memorial Day as an opportunity to relax in the yard, gather with friends, or plan a weekend getaway — and it very much is. But at the same time, it’s important never to lose sight of the day’s significance.
That said, here are five things to consider while we’re gathering, celebrating and paying respects the men and women who died serving this country.
#1. We’re all aware Memorial Day is a day of remembrance, but Congress has also established an exact minute of remembrance. The National Moment of Remembrance Act, adopted in December of 2000, encourages every citizen to pause each Memorial Day at 3:00 p.m. local time to remember the brave men and women who died serving this country. In addition to any federal observances, Major League Baseball games usually come to a stop during the Moment of Remembrance and, for the past several years, Amtrak engineers have taken up the practice of sounding their horns in unison at precisely 3:00 p.m.
#2. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Memorial Day is celebrated in late May because that’s when flowers are likely to be blooming across the country. It was Union General John A. Logan who — after serving in the Mexican-American War and Civil War — proposed Congress institute May 30th as Decoration Day (the predecessor to Memorial Day) to allow citizens to decorate the graves of deceased veterans with fresh flowers. (It’s also believed Logan settled on the date because it wasn’t already the anniversary of any significant battles.)
#3. The Ironton-Lawrence Memorial Day Parade in Ironton, Ohio, is recognized as the oldest continuously running Memorial Day parade in the nation, beginning all the way back in 1868. However, the oldest (and first) Memorial Day parade in the country was held a year earlier in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. (It’s also worth noting both the National Memorial Day Parade in Washington, D.C., and the Little Neck-Douglaston Memorial Day Parade in Queens, N.Y., bill themselves as the largest Memorial Day parades in the nation.)
#4. “Taps,” the bugle call typically performed at military funerals as well as the annual Memorial Day wreath ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, was actually adapted from a separate Civil War bugle call known as “Scott Tattoo,” which was used to signal lights out. The new melody later became the preferred accompaniment at military funerals after Captain John Tidball of the Union Army alerted nearby Confederate troops to their location.
#5. Despite rising gas prices, AAA estimates 41.5 million people will travel over Memorial Day weekend, with 36.6 million of them clogging up the freeways. Leaving a little earlier on Thursday would do little to help ease drivers’ headaches: Transportation analysts working with AAA say drivers will experience the greatest amount of congestion on Thursday and Friday, and “congestion across a greater number of days,” in general, “than in previous years.”