Memorial Day 2020: Facts and Traditions

Memorial Day is more than just a great excuse for a cookout and a day off from work. The holiday was created to honor the many American men and women who died in military service. This focus on those who made the ultimate sacrifice sets it apart from Veterans’ Day, which honors all military veterans, living and dead.

When is Memorial Day 2020?

The next Memorial Day is on Monday, May 25, 2020. Memorial Day is always commemorated in the U.S. on the last Monday in May. In Canada, Memorial Day is commemorated with Canada Day on July 1st each year (in the provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador), and Remembrance Day on November 11th. Victoria Day, May 18, is Canada’s unofficial start to summer.

Poppy Field at Sunset

Why Is The Poppy Associated With Memorial Day?

Poppies are associated with those who died during wartime since World War I.  In the U.S., people wear the red poppy on Memorial Day to honor those who died trying to protect the country, according to The Department of Veterans Affairs. In Canada, poppies are worn on Remembrance Day, November 11th.

The red color is not a symbol of blood, death, or support for war. Instead, poppies were the only flowers that grew in war-torn battlefields. When the countrysides were nothing but mud and devastation, poppy flowers sprouted up and flourished. The sight of the red poppies inspired one Canadian soldier, Colonel John McCrae, to pen a poem in May 1915:

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly.
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Colonel John McCrae

The poem moved so many, especially two women—Anna E. Guerin of France and Moina Michael of Georgia. Together they sold artificial poppies to benefit children left orphaned by the War, and by 1922, the poppy was adopted as the official memorial flower of the VFW. The Friday before Memorial Day was designated as Poppy Day.

Memorial Day History and Facts

Here are some facts and history on the holiday:

  • The day was originally set aside to remember Union soldiers who died during the Civil War, but following World War I, its scope expanded to include those who died in any war or military action. At the end of the Civil War, many U.S. cities held their own memorial observations for their hometown heroes.
  • The idea for a specific holiday came in 1868 from Illinois Senator John Alexander Logan, a former Union general and keynote speaker at one early observation. Logan used his position as commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, a fraternal organization of Union soldiers, to issue a proclamation for a national “Decoration Day” to be observed on May 30 of that year by decorating the tombs of Union soldiers.
  • The name “Memorial Day,” started cropping up from time to time. The new name became more common after World War II, and in 1967 was declared the official name by Federal law.
  • Memorial Day was celebrated on May 30 until 1968, when Congress passed the Uniform Holidays Bill, moving 4 holidays — Columbus Day, Presidents’ Day, Veterans Day and Memorial Day—to designated Mondays in order to create the ever-popular three-day weekends. (Veterans Day eventually reverted to its traditional November 11 date, which mirrors Armistice Day and Remembrance Day celebrations in the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth nations).
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