Meaning of Memorial Day

It's not just shopping, picnics, and baseball. The official intent of Memorial Day, observed on the last Monday of May (this year, it's May 28), is to honor those who died in war.

The upcoming three-day weekend has prompted searches on Yahoo! for "When is Memorial Day," "What is Memorial Day," and "Memorial Day History."

Here, a brief history behind the holiday.

Decoration Day

The day was originally known as Decoration Day because the day was dedicated to the Civil War dead, when mourners, mainly women, would decorate gravesites as a remembrance.

The holiday was first widely observed on May 30, 1868, when 5,000 people helped decorate the gravesites of 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried at Arlington National Cemetery. (Some areas in the South honor members of the Confederate Army with Confederate Memorial Day.)

After World War I, the observances were widened to honor the fallen from all American wars. But still, it was not until 1971 that Congress officially declared Memorial Day a national holiday.

A moment of remembrance

Towns across the country now honor military personnel with services, parades, and fireworks. A national moment of remembrance takes place at 3 p.m. At Arlington National Cemetery, headstones are graced with small American flags.

This day is not to be confused with Veterans Day, which is observed on November 11 to honor all military veterans. Memorial Day is especially to remember those who died in service.

Unofficial start of summer

However, the meaning of the holiday often gets muddled, since the timing for many signals the start of summer: The long weekend is often reserved for getaways, picnics, and shopping for sales. Searches on "Memorial Day sales," "Memorial Day recipes," and "Memorial Day weekend" are just some of the lookups related to the festivities.