Memorial Day 2013: Why Does Memorial Day Always Fall On Final Monday In May?

By iScienceTimes Staff on April 24, 2013 1:16 PM EDT

memorial day 2013
Memorial Day 2013 falls on May 27. Every Memorial Day in the U.S., volunteers place flags at the graves of U.S. service members. (Photo: Flickr/Beverly & Pack)

Memorial Day 2013 is quickly approaching. On Monday, May 27, people all across the U.S. will commemorate the men and women who have died during military service. Flags will be placed at gravesites, memorial sites will be visited and prayers will be said as we collectively tip our hats to those who have put themselves in harm's way so that others don't have to.

It's a gesture whose roots are sunk deep in American history. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the very first Memorial Day ceremony in the U.S. was held on May 30, 1868, on the heels of the Civil War, the deadliest conflict in U.S. history.

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The remembrance celebration, initially dubbed Decoration Day, was held at the Arlington mansion across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., where General Robert E. Lee once lived. According to History.com, Decoration Day was meant to be a sacred day to remember those who had died in the Civil War, a conflict that claimed 620,000 lives. Over the years, and many wars later, the day came to represent all military personnel who had died in conflict.

Why, then, does the U.S.'s most sacred secular holiday always fall on the final Monday in May? What's the significance? The last weekend of May is a flexible window, and the earlier, fixed date of May 30, which was changed in 1971, has no special significance for the history of armed conflict in the United States. Why, then, do we celebrate veterans at a time when nothing needing special remembrance occurred?

Apparently, it's all about the flowers.

"It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country," the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reports.

Flowers were an integral part of Memorial Day ceremonies in the holiday's beginning, and springtime in the Northern Hemisphere is when flowers are blooming at their best.   

"The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land," General John A. Logan, a general in the Union Army, proclaimed.

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