Memorial Day is a United States federal holiday that takes place on the last Monday of May. It was formerly known as Decoration Day. This holiday commemorates U.S. men and women who died in military service for their country.
Following the end of the Civil War, many communities set aside a day to mark the end of the war or as a memorial to those who had died. These observances eventually coalesced around Decoration Day honoring the Union dead and the several Confederate Memorial Days.
The official birthplace of Memorial Day is Waterloo, New York. The village was credited with being the birthplace because it observed the day on May 5, 1866, and each year thereafter, and because it's likely that the friendship of Gen. John Murray, a distinguished citizen of Waterloo, and General Logan, whose order calling for the day (Decoration Day) to be observed each year helped spread the event nation wide, was a key factor in its growth.
Many of the states of the U.S. South refused to celebrate Decoration Day due to lingering hostility towards the Union Army, which it was commemorating. Many Southern States did not recognize Memorial Day until after World War I, and even after continued to have a separate Confederate Memorial Day, with the date varying from state to state.
The alternative name of "Memorial Day" was first used in 1882, but did not become more common until after World War II, and was not declared the official name by Federal law until 1967.
In 1971, President Richard Nixon declared Memorial Day a national holiday to be held on the last Monday in May.