Holidays

A young girl playing in a park fountain, holding the American Flag
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When Is Memorial Day This Year?

Everything you need to know about the holiday, from the date to the history.

The siren song of summer is swiftly approaching, but until Memorial Day weekend arrives, it’s not truly summer yet. Whether you plan to mark the occasion with a backyard barbecue, beach day, or with the liberal use of the snooze button, what you must do is get the date on the calendar, ASAP. So when is Memorial Day this year?

When is Memorial Day 2021?

This year Memorial Day falls on May 31. That’s a Monday, mind you, which means you likely have the day off from work. And if not, here’s hoping a generous time-and-a-half is in order.

The history of Memorial Day

If you’ve ever heard the term “Decoration Day” then you might know that that title was the precursor for Memorial Day. Some historians say it began on May 30, 1868 as a way to honor American Civil War dead, according to PBS. Gen. John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of former Union sailors and soldiers, declared the event and it was noted by a speech heard by 5,000 at Arlington National Cemetery, given by Union Gen. and sitting Ohio Congressman James Garfield (later the 20th president of the United States). Following his speech, participants decorated the graves of the more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried there.

That said, others claim the very first Memorial Day was really in 1865 when a group of freed slaves in Charleston, South Carolina, mourned Union dead at an old race course (today’s Hampton Park). Here 10,000 formerly enslaved individuals processed in mourning “led by thousands of schoolchildren carrying roses and singing the Union anthem “John Brown’s Body,” reports the New York Times. As too often the case in American history, their claim on the origin of the holiday was white-washed and suppressed.

In 1971, Memorial Day became an official federal holiday becoming a day Americans pay tributes to fallen soldiers.

Photo Caption Ideas for Memorial Day

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images News/Getty Images

As a time honored tradition that pays tribute to those who pay the ultimate sacrifice in safeguarding our nation, preserving our union, and fighting for freedom, Memorial Day is the right time to post a photo on your go-to social media account and to give it a meaningful caption as a thanks to those we’ve lost in battle.

Here are a few suggestions:

  • "No duty is more urgent than that of returning thanks." — James Allen
  • "It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God such men lived." — George S. Patton
  • "Home of the free, because of the brave." — Unknown
  • "In the face of impossible odds, people who love this country can change it." — Barack Obama
  • "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." — John F. Kennedy

Memorial Day Celebration Ideas

Memorial Day comes but once a year. Might as well seize the day and celebrate with friends and family. But what kind of Memorial Day are you looking for this year? Here are a few ideas.

  • Make Your Own Decoration Day. Just as newly freed slaves and participants at Arlington Cemetery did in the 1800s, you too can return the holiday to its Decorate Day beginnings when the day was marked with singing and decorating the graves of those we’ve lost.
  • Host a Gathering. Getting those near and dear together for a (small, socially distant) gathering is a great way to kick off the start of summer. Potluck it up or prepare a feast for your friends while enjoying a day off.
  • Hit the Waves. If you’re within driving distance of the beach (be it lakeside or surfside) there are few better places to be on Memorial Day. The vibe is freewheeling fun. Just don’t forget the sunscreen.
  • Decorate Your Home. Break out the red, white, and blue and signal summer to every passerby with some festive Memorial Day decor.
  • Send a Care Package. While Memorial Day is focused on those who paid the ultimate price for our country, it’s a natural time to reflect on those in the service protecting us at present. You can show your support for American troops by sending a care package to those abroad.
  • Volunteer with Veterans. Giving your time to the greater good is a great way to make space for reflection this Memorial Day. Contact your local VA hospital, American Legion, or organizations like Blue Star Veterans to find out how you can help.

However you chose to spend this federal holiday, remember how it got its start and the reason we all get to enjoy it.