Memorial Day is an American holiday, observed on the last Monday of May, for honouring and mourning the men and women who died while serving in the US military.
Memorial Day 2020 occurs on Monday 25 May.
Originally known as Decoration Day, it originated in the years following the Civil War and became an official US holiday in 1971. The precise history of Memorial Day remains complex and unclear however. The US Department of Veterans’ Affairs recognises that approximately 25 places claim to have originated the holiday. There is even a Centre for Memorial Day Research at Columbus State University!
Memorial Day used to be called Decoration Day for the very simple reason that the ancient custom of decorating soldiers’ graves with flowers (or medals for some) became one of the traditions respected on that day. In fact, in the US, soldiers’ graves were decorated even before and during the Civil War.
When the Civil War ended in 1865, it had claimed more lives than any other conflict in US history and therefore required the establishment of the first national cemeteries. “By the late 1860s, Americans in various towns and cities had begun holding springtime tributes, decorating their graves with flowers and reciting prayers,” states History’s Memorial Day summary.
Some records show that one of the earliest Memorial Day commemorations was organised by a group of freed slaves in Charleston, South Carolina less than a month after the end of the Civil War. Yet, in 1966 the federal government declared Waterloo, New York, the official birthplace of Memorial Day.
Initially, Memorial Day, or Decoration Day at the time, was only meant to be an occasion for honouring and mourning those lost while fighting in the Civil War. But during World War I the US found itself involved in another major conflict, which is why the holiday eventually evolved to commemorate American military personnel who died in all wars, including World War II, The Vietnam War, The Korean War and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
For decades, Memorial Day continued to be observed on May 30, the date selected for the first Decoration Day. But in 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May in order to create a three-day weekend for federal employees. The change went into effect in 1971 and declared Memorial Day a national holiday.
Americans 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 and is also respected in the UK.
Each year, cities across the US host Memorial Day parades often incorporating military personnel and members of veterans’ organisations. Some of the largest parades take place in New York, Washington, D.C. and Chicago. This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, big parades will not take place but New York just announced that it will allow small ceremonies and vehicle parades.
Many people also celebrate Memorial Day weekend by throwing parties and barbecues during the three day long weekend as the last Monday of May also represents the unofficial start of summer in the US while Labor Day marks the unofficial start of Autumn on the first Monday of September.
Two other days celebrate those who have served or are currently serving in the US military. The first one is Veterans Day, which honours those who have served in the US Armed Forces. The second one is Armed Forces Day, an unofficial US holiday for honouring those currently serving in the armed forces.
This Monday for Memorial Day 2020, don’t forget about the day’s national moment of remembrance which takes place at 3 p.m. local time.
Tomorrow is not just any other Monday, it’s Monday 20 April. Whether you are a marijuana user or not, there are strong chances that you know what 4/20, also spelled 420 or 4 20, means: it’s the unofficial holiday celebrated by potheads who come together to, well, smoke pot. But even weed enthusiasts out there are not all aware of why they wait for 4:20 to light a blunt in the afternoon (or in the morning, I’m not judging). Why was this particular number chosen? Where did 420 come from and what does it stand for?
There are different theories about the origin of 420 but no one seems to be entirely sure of which one is true. Ever heard that 420 is police code for possession? Or maybe that it is the penal code for marijuana use? Well, both of these are false. The California Senate Bill 420 that refers to the use of medical marijuana was actually named specifically for the code, not the other way around, which means that even our governments are linking the number 420 to marijuana use.
Another theory states that there are 420 active chemicals in marijuana, hence the connection between the drug and the number. But according to the Dutch Association for Legal Cannabis and Its Constituents as Medicine (NCSM), there are more than 500 active ingredients in marijuana, and only about 70 or so are cannabinoids unique to the plant. This rules this one out as well.
A subreddit on ‘trees’ speculates that the earliest written link between marijuana and 420 comes from H.P. Lovecraft and Kenneth Sterling’s short story In the Walls of Eryx published in 1939: “Although everything was spinning perilously, I tried to start in the right direction and hack my way ahead. My route must have been far from straight, for it seemed hours before I was free of the mirage-plant’s pervasive influence. Gradually the dancing lights began to disappear, and the shimmering spectral scenery began to assume the aspect of solidity. When I did get wholly clear I looked at my watch and was astonished to find the time was only 4:20. Though eternities had seemed to pass, the whole experience could have consumed little more than a half-hour.”
Many believe that the holiday came out of a ritual started by a group of high school students in California during the 1970s. According to Steven Hager, a former editor of the marijuana-focused news outlet High Times, a group of kids at San Rafael High School in San Rafael used to meet daily at 4:20 to smoke weed after school. When they’d see each other in the hallways during the day, they used to tell each other ‘420 Louie’, meaning, ‘Let’s meet at the Louis Pasteur statue at 4:20 to smoke’.
As many still stipulated on whether this story was true or not, the group of Californians mentioned before who call themselves the Waldos published documents in order to give this theory some legitimacy. Screen Shot spoke to one of the Waldos, Steve Capper, about why people seem to still doubt the origin of the term: “Many people have their own ideas and fantasies about friends and relatives who supposedly started ‘420’. The Waldos have created a whole culture of fake 420 claimers. The one thing that all these doubters have in common is not one shred of proof to their claims which might create doubt on their side.”
Capper certified that the Waldos are the only group of people with documented proof of their claims, which has been looked at by experts and international media and kept “in a vault in San Francisco at 420 Montgomery Street.”
Whatever its origins, 4/20 has become a very important holiday for weed smokers. As soon as the saying caught on and the Grateful Dead eventually picked it up, what was a simple code shared between a few stoners became the worldwide event for smokers that it is today. Originally a counterculture holiday to protest the social and legal stigmas against marijuana, 420 has also become the perfect opportunity for businesses and corporations to cash in on marijuana culture.
This year, those of you who looked forward to celebrating 420 with other marijuana enthusiasts will have to settle for a solo sesh at home. So get your laptop out, log in on your Zoom account, close your door and get ready to smoke it up, self-isolation style.