Memorial Day honors America’s military men and women who lost their lives in service to their country.
The holiday is observed on the last Monday of May, a time of year when weather is turning warmer and schools and universities are adjourning for summer break.
To Americans, Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial beginning of summer. Many people attend parades, go to the beach or have cook-outs with friends and family.
Originally known as Decoration Day, it originated in the years following the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971.
Cities and towns across the United States host Memorial Day parades each year, often incorporating military personnel and members of veterans’ organizations. Some of the largest parades take place in Chicago, New York and Washington, DC.
Americans also observe Memorial Day by visiting cemeteries and memorials. Some people wear a red poppy in remembrance of those fallen in war—a tradition that began with a World War I poem.
On a less somber note, many people take weekend trips or throw parties and barbecues on the holiday, perhaps because Memorial Day weekend—the long weekend comprising the Saturday and Sunday before Memorial Day and Memorial Day itself—unofficially marks the beginning of summer.
But at its heart, Memorial Day is a day when Americans reflect on the sacrifice of those who have given their lives in military service.