The unofficial beginning of summer is recognized on the last weekend in May with the first official summer holiday, Memorial Day, and wistfully ends with its bookend holiday, Labor Day, in the fall. Both are three-day weekends, and Americans have found plenty of ways to pack in maximum fun, with an extra day barely able to contain it all. On Memorial Day weekend, graduation ceremonies, holiday celebrations, barbecues and pool openings juggle for a spot on the calendar.
Even though an argument could be made for the relaxing summer season to have a holiday all its own, the origins and meaning of Memorial Day are steeped in tradition that proud Americans carry out each and every year.
According to Wikipedia, the day was first known as Decoration Day. A Northern general thought that if Americans could decorate the graves to honor the casualties of the recent Civil War, it might be a way to heal the wounds between the still divided North and South. A day in May was chosen because it was not the anniversary of any particular Civil War battle, which might dredge up animosity, and flowers were likely to be blooming all across the country in May. Over the years, the name evolved into Memorial Day and is now set aside to honor all the soldiers who have died in service to the United States, not just those during the Civil War. The holiday was permanently renamed Memorial Day by Congress in 1971, and the observation date was moved to the last Monday in May.