Ah, Memorial Day. Celebrated in remembrance of our fallen veterans with a 3-day weekend at the end of each May, Memorial Day also serves as an unofficial start to summer. Across the country, families and friends gather at picnics and barbeques, or take the opportunity for long weekend vacations. In many climates, including the nation’s capital, the weekend is the traditional opening date of pools, marking the beginning of outdoor activities and starting the countdown to the end of the school year.
Though the long weekend is often a cause for celebration or relaxation, it’s is important to remember national holiday was set aside to remember the heros who have fallen in the course of service to the U.S. Originally called Decoration Day, observance first began after the Civil War, when General John Logan designated May 30, 1868 as a day for decorating the graves of those who died serving their country in the war. On that day, a speech was given at Arlington National Cemetery by General James Garfield, and the graves of the 20,000 soldier buried there were decorated.
The name was officially changed to Memorial Day through federal law in 1967, and in 1968 a law was passed to move Memorial Day (along with a few other holidays) to specified Mondays, in order to allow for three-day weekends. This year, Memorial Day falls on Monday, May 30, 2016. In 2000, Congress passed a resolution for a National Moment of Remembrance, asking that Americans voluntarily and informally engage in a moment of remembrance at 3:00 PM local time. In honor and reverence of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country, many observers of the holiday will spend it visiting cemeteries or memorials, or decorating the grave of deceased veterans.
Looking for the perfect way to celebrate this Memorial Day? We’ve rounded up some of the nation’s best places to visit to memorialize America’s fallen soldiers. Be sure to pack your patriotism for these road trips.
The capital city is full of memorials that honor those who have fought and died in service of their country. Visitors can easily spend an entire day on the National Mall observing the various monuments, memorials, and museums. D.C. also hosts the National Memorial Day Parade, slated this year for Monday, May 30th at 2:00 PM. Musical performances saluting our nation’s heros include the National Memorial Day Choral Festival on May 28th and May 29th at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and PBS’ National Memorial Day Concert on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol at 8:00 PM on Sunday, May 29th.
Just across the Potomac River sits Arlington National Cemetery, where the first Decoration Day speech was delivered. In addition to thousands of graves of American Soldiers, the Arlington National Cemetery is home to the gravesite of President John F. Kennedy, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Memorial Amphitheater, and the Memorial Arboretum. Special Guided Memorial Day tours will be offered on Sunday, May 29th.
Gettysburg is among the most well-known battlefields in the U.S., famous not only as the location of the bloodiest battle in the Civil War, but for President Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address.” The Gettysburg National Military Park offers an array of year-round events and programs, including living history demonstrations every weekend 4/2-10/30. Memorial Day weekend is no exception. In addition, the 149th Gettysburg Memorial Day Parade will take place Monday, May 30th at 2:00 PM in Gettysburg, and the Memorial Day Ceremony begins at 3:00 PM the same day, in the National Soldiers Cemetery.
New York City, NY
The city’s largest Memorial Day parade is held in Queens on Sunday, May 29th. Brooklyn, Manhattan, Staten Island, and the Bronx will each host their own parades on Monday, May 30th. NYC celebrates Memorial Day simultaneously with Fleet Week, lasting from May 25 through May 31st this year. There are multiple parades, including the Parade of Ships that kicks off Fleet Week. There’s a music festival in addition to several other concerts, readings at public libraries, special exhibits on display, ship tours, drill team performances, search and rescue demonstrations, and various ceremonies. Find a full list of Fleet Week events here.
Chicago has also been rumored to host a great Memorial Day Parade. A tradition since 1870, this is reportedly one of the largest parades in the nation! The Wreath Laying Ceremony, which honors the fallen heros in addition to their survivors will begin at 11:00 AM at the Eternal Flame on Daley Plaza; the Chicago Memorial Day Parade steps off at noon on Sunday, May 29th.
The Mile High City will feature a long weekend of celebrations, events, and festivities in honor of Memorial Day and to kick off summer this month. Denver’s visitor site features listings of exhibitions, arts festivals, sports events, a Day of Rock, and even a celebration of David Bowie! The city of Denver will honor military heroes on Wednesday, May 25th with a Memorial Day Parade beginning at 11:30 AM in Civic Center Park. Following the parade, a Veterans Memorial Day Tribute will take place at the Veterans Monument.
San Francisco, CA
San Francisco’s Memorial Day weekend is both a time to remember and a chance to celebrate, hosting a variety of events over the course of the weekend. The official Memorial Day ceremony and parade takes place in the National Cemetery on Monday, May 30th. There is also a Picnic at the Presidio and the Golden Gate Band Park Concert on Sunday, May 29th. Additionally, don’t miss Carnaval San Francisco on the 28th & 29th.
“We do not know one promise these men made, one pledge they gave, one word they spoke; but we do know they summed up and perfected, by one supreme act, the highest virtues of men and citizens. For love of country they accepted death, and thus resolved all doubts, and made immortal their patriotism and their virtue.”
May 30, 1868 Arlington National Cemetery