American flags stand at the grave markers of US soldiers at the Los Angeles National Cemetery, placed there by Boy and Girl Scouts (Picture: Getty)

Memorial Day is marked every year on the last Monday in May and is one of three annual dates honouring the United States military.

This one is specifically dedicated to armed forces personnel who have died in action, though there is also a day for veterans (Veteran’s Day) and all current serving officers (Armed Forces Day).

Memorial Day is basically the equivalent of Remembrance Day that’s observed on November 11 in the UK.

It is a federal holiday in America – which is essentially the US equivalent of a bank holiday.

But when was the first Memorial Day and is it celebrated anywhere else in the world?

When was the first Memorial Day and do we celebrate it in the UK?

Boston Common in Massachusetts covered in flags on Memorial Day (Picture: Getty)

It’s believed that Memorial Day began in 1868, when it was celebrated on May 30 – and was known as Decoration Day.

But the origin of the day – and the significance of the date – is a bit of a mystery.

This is because the date has moved around so often, and was confused by the fact that Congress in 1966 falsely claimed the tradition had started 100 years hitherto in Waterloo, New York.

One historian has posited that the tradition started in 1865 after freed African-Americans held a parade of 10,000 people to honor 257 dead Union Soldiers, whose remains they had reburied from a mass grave in a Confederate prison camp.

That same year, the federal government began creating national military cemeteries for the Union war dead.

The US army remains one of the main sources of national pride in America (Picture: Getty)

By the 20th century, several different days that had sprung up across the nation converged to become Memorial Day.

Some claim the date was chosen as no battle had happened on that date, whereas others say it was selected as the optimal time when flowers bloom.

Memorial Day did not replace Decoration Day as the title until after the Second World War. It was not declared the official name by Federal law until 1967.

On June 28, 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which moved four holidays, including Memorial Day, from their traditional dates to a specified Monday in order to create a convenient three-day weekend, as with British bank holidays.

The change moved Memorial Day from its traditional May 30 date to the last Monday in May.

The law took effect at the federal level in 1971. After some initial confusion and unwillingness to comply, all 50 states adopted Congress’ change of date within a few years.

In the UK, we don’t celebrate Memorial Day as, like many countries, we have our own dates – November 11, Remembrance Day, and Remembrance Sunday.


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