While decorating the graves of the deceased is a common and ancient custom, the American practice of decorating the graves of fallen soldiers dates back to the end of the Civil War. The first recorded instance took place in Virginia in 1861. Women in Savannah, Georgia did the same the following year, decorating the graves of Confederate soldiers, and in 1863, a commemoration was held in Gettysburg. Honoring soldiers lost in battle became even more common after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. While the practice, originally referred to as Decoration Day, became very common in the south, it did not start taking hold in the north until 1868. It soon spread to a national day, celebrated each year on May 30 and always honored by an address at Gettysburg. The shift toward the Memorial Day name did not come about until after World War II and was made official in 1967.
The following year, the date was officially moved to the third Monday in May to create a three day weekend in spite of protests from the VFW and others arguing that the change trivialized the holiday. And indeed, Memorial Day is often celebrated with cook outs, camping trips, swimming, boating, and massive sales at car dealerships and furniture stores; unfortunately, the core meaning of the holiday falls to the wayside for many people. Here are five books you can read with your children this Memorial Day to keep patriotism as your focus. Some will even help teach them the real meaning behind the holiday—honoring those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.