Monday is Memorial Day which means most Americans will be taking the day off from work to spend time with friends and family barbecuing and enjoying themselves. Unfortunately, many Americans don’t know very much about the holiday or what it represents. Read on to learn some of the history and basics of Memorial Day.

History of Memorial Day

On May 26, 1966, a presidential proclamation naming Waterloo, New York as the place where the tradition of observing Memorial Day began was signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson. The observation of Decoration Day started after the American Civil War and was established as a time for the nation to remember the sacrifice of Union soldiers who gave their life during the war. At that point, it became customary to decorate the graves of those who died serving the Union during the Civil War. Although the practice of decorating soldiers’ graves dates back to ancient customs, the extraordinary number of soldiers who died during the Civil War gave new cultural significance to the practice in America.

Memorial Day vs. Veterans Day vs. Armed Services Day

It is common for people to confuse the three holidays despite their distinct differences. Memorial Day was established as a day for remembering servicemen and women who died while serving in the line of duty. Veterans day was designated as a holiday to celebrate the service of all U.S military veterans (those who have previously served in the military). Armed Services Day is designed to celebrate all active-duty members of the United States Military and is the start of Armed Services Week.

Ways to Honor the Day

Having or attending a holiday cookout is a tradition that most American’s observe on the last Monday of May and while it can be used as a means of honoring the day, there are other more deliberate ways to do so. The most historically accurate way to remember the service of those who made the ultimate sacrifice is by visiting a cemetery or memorial. You can even volunteer to help with the placing of American flags on each of the graves in the national cemeteries across the country. If you have a flagpole at your residence or place of business, fly the American flag at half-mast until noon. You can also go to a local parade with your family or observe the National Moment of Remembrance at 3:00 pm on Memorial Day.