• Newsfeed

7 Things You Didn’t Know About Memorial Day

3 minute read
Updated: | Originally published: ;

As we noted a few years ago, Memorial Day isn’t just an excuse to take a long weekend and loaf around eating grilled meats—although those are certainly among the reasons to love the holiday.

So before you head out to your barbecues and pool parties, here are some facts about Memorial Day, everybody’s favorite summer kick-off holiday.

It was originally called Decoration Day

To honor the deceased, soldiers would decorate graves of their fallen comrades with flowers, flags and wreaths. Hence Decoration Day. Although Memorial Day became its official title in the 1880s, the holiday wouldn’t legally become Memorial Day until 1967.

It wasn’t always celebrated the last Monday of May

After the Civil War, General John A. Logan, commander in chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, called for a holiday commemorating fallen soldiers to be observed every May 30. But due to the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which took effect in 1971, Memorial Day was moved to the last Monday of May to ensure long weekends. Some groups, like the veterans’ organization American Legion, have been working to restore the original date to set Memorial Day apart and pay proper tribute to the servicemen and women who sacrificed their lives defending the nation.

This year, Memorial Day falls on Monday, May 28.

It’s legally required to observe a National Moment of Remembrance

In December 2000, Congress passed a law requiring Americans to pause at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day to remember and honor the fallen. But this doesn’t appear to be common knowledge, or if it is, by 3 p.m. most people seem to be too deep into a hot dog-induced food coma to officially observe the moment.

James A. Garfield delivered a rather lengthy speech at the first Memorial Day ceremony

Of course then it was still called Decoration Day, and at the time, Garfield was a Civil War General and Republican Congressman, not yet a President. On May 30, 1868, he addressed the several thousand people gathered at Arlington National Cemetery. “If silence is ever golden,” Garfield said, “it must be beside the graves of 15,000 men, whose lives were more significant than speech, and whose death was a poem the music of which can never be sung.”

Several states observe Confederate Memorial Day

In addition to the national holiday, nine states officially set aside a day to honor those who died fighting for the Confederacy in the Civil War: Texas, South Carolina, North Carolina, Alabama, Virginia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Georgia. The days vary, but only Virginia observes Confederate Memorial Day on the last Monday of May, in accordance with the federal observance of Memorial Day.

Waterloo, New York is considered the birthplace of Memorial Day

According to the Waterloo’s website, in 1966 Congress unanimously passed a resolution to officially recognize Waterloo as the birthplace of Memorial Day. However, it remains a contentious debate, with other towns, like Boalsburg, Pa., claiming the title of “Birthplace of Memorial Day” as well.

More than 36 million people will travel at least 50 miles from home this Memorial Day

At least, according to AAA estimates. That’s the highest total since the recession.

See 15 Mouthwatering BBQ Photos

BBQ Road Trip
Smoked pork hot link with collard greens and mac and cheese at Jim 'N Nicks Bar-B-Q in Birmingham, Ala.Andrew Hetherington
BBQ Road Trip
Fried chicken at Husk in Charleston, S.C., named "Best New Restaurant in America" by Bon Appétit in 2011.Andrew Hetherington
BBQ Road Trip
Catfish with a selection of sides (including large lima beans, fresh green beans, collard greens, boiled cabbage, fresh mashed potatoes and brussels sprouts) from the daily cafeteria menu at Niki's West in Birmingham, Ala.Andrew Hetherington
BBQ Road Trip
Holeman & Finch Public House in Atlanta infamously serves only 24 burgers a night, at around 10 pm. Get there early; they almost always sell out.Andrew Hetherington
BBQ Road Trip
James Beard award-winning chef Sean Brock holding house-cured meat at McCrady's in Charleston, S.C.Andrew Hetherington
BBQ Road Trip
Whole pig ready to be butchered at Husk in Charleston, S.C.Andrew Hetherington
BBQ Road Trip
Smoked pork ribs with watermelon pickle at Cochon in New OrleansAndrew Hetherington
Menu display at Gus's Hot Dogs in Birmingham, Ala.Andrew Hetherington
BBQ Road Trip
Hot dog on the griddle at Gus's in Birmingham, Ala.Andrew Hetherington
BBQ Road Trip
The finished product at Gus's in Birmingham, Ala.Andrew Hetherington
BBQ Road Trip
All 24 burgers on the griddle at the same time at Holeman & Finch Public House in Atlanta.Andrew Hetherington
BBQ Road Trip
House-cured meat at Star Provisions in Atlanta.Andrew Hetherington
BBQ Road Trip
Bread for sandwiches and hamburgers at the soda fountain in Add Drug in Athens, Ga. The store is well known for the best-value lunch in town.Andrew Hetherington
BBQ Road Trip
Crawfish boil on the banks of the Mississippi in New Orleans with chefs Donald Link and Stephen Stryjewski of Cochon restaurant. The crawfish are cooked with lemons, garlic, and salt, then tossed with Old Bay and Cajun spices before being dumped on a plastic table for eating.Andrew Hetherington
BBQ Road Trip
Lemon meringue pie at Niki's West in Birmingham, Ala.Andrew Hetherington

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com