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Memorial Day, observed on the last Monday of May, is a time for Americans to honour the men and women who have died in military service to the United States. This solemn holiday is marked by ceremonies, parades, and tributes, reflecting the nation's respect and gratitude for those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Understanding the history of Memorial Day and its contemporary significance provides insight into its enduring importance in American culture.

Much like our ANZAC Day, it is a day to genuinely honour those who fought and perished to defend our right to freedom. 

Memorial Day in the United States and ANZAC Day in Australia and New Zealand are both national days dedicated to remembering and honoring military personnel who have served and sacrificed for their countries. While these special days share a common purpose, they differ in their origins, customs, and contemporary significance. Comparing these two observances provides insight into how different nations honour their fallen heroes and reflect on their military histories.

This post explores the history in both and how they are the same yet different.


Memorial Day's origins date back to the aftermath of the American Civil War, a conflict that claimed the lives of over 620,000 soldiers. The sheer scale of loss prompted communities across the country to honor the fallen. The earliest recorded instances of what would become Memorial Day occurred in various locations independently, often called "Decoration Day," where people decorated the graves of Civil War soldiers with flowers.

One notable early observance was in Charleston, South Carolina, on May 1, 1865, when formerly enslaved people and Union troops gathered to honor Union soldiers who had died in captivity. This event included a parade and the decoration of graves, symbolising the broader national effort to acknowledge the cost of the Civil War and the value of freedom.


In 1868, General John A. Logan, leader of an organisation for Northern Civil War veterans, called for a nationwide day of remembrance on May 30. Known as Decoration Day, this date was chosen because it was not the anniversary of any particular battle. On that first national observance, people decorated the graves of over 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.

Over the years, Decoration Day evolved to include honour for those who died in all American wars, not just the Civil War. After World War I, the commemoration expanded to recognise the fallen from subsequent conflicts, reflecting the nation's growing military engagements.

The name "Memorial Day" gradually became more common, and in 1967, it was officially declared the official name by federal law. A significant shift occurred with the Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1968, which moved Memorial Day to the last Monday in May to create a three-day weekend for federal employees, a change that took effect in 1971. This move aimed to encourage travel and family gatherings, thus promoting a broader observance of the day.

Today, Memorial Day is a time for reflection, commemoration, and community. Across the United States, people visit cemeteries and memorials to pay respects, participate in parades, and attend ceremonies. The tradition of placing American flags on graves is widespread, symbolising the nation's collective memory and respect.


Beyond these observances, Memorial Day also serves as a reminder of the costs of war and the value of peace. It underscores the sacrifices made by service members and their families, promoting a sense of national unity and gratitude. For many, the date is also a moment to engage with the country's history and to educate younger generations about the principles of duty, sacrifice, and patriotism.

Additionally, Memorial Day has become a time for personal reflection and family gatherings, often seen as the unofficial start of summer. Barbecues, picnics, and recreational activities are common, blending the sombre remembrance with a celebration of the freedoms that the fallen soldiers fought to protect.

So what about our ANZAC Day? How do we honour our fallen on our chosen day? 

ANZAC Day, observed on April 25, commemorates the landing of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) at Gallipoli, Turkey, during World War I in 1915. This event marked the first major military action by these forces during the war. 

ANZAC Day originally focused on honoring those who fought at Gallipoli but soon expanded to commemorate all Australians and New Zealanders who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations. The day has grown to become a key moment of national reflection and identity for both countries.

Yet there are some similarities between both important days of tribute to our fallen. 

Customs and Traditions

Memorial Day:

  • Ceremonies: Memorial Day is marked by ceremonies at cemeteries and memorials, including the decoration of graves with flowers and American flags. The National Memorial Day Concert and the laying of a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery are key events.



  • Parades: Many towns and cities hold parades featuring military personnel, veterans, and local organisations.
  • Personal Remembrance: Families often visit cemeteries to honour loved ones who served. 



  • Dawn Services: The day begins with dawn services held at war memorials across Australia and New Zealand, reflecting the time of the Gallipoli landings. These solemn ceremonies include the Last Post, moments of silence, and the recitation of the Ode of Remembrance. 


  • Parades: Following the dawn services, ANZAC Day marches take place in cities and towns, involving veterans, military personnel, and descendants of veterans.
  • Commemorations: Wreath-laying ceremonies, church services, and the playing of traditional songs and hymns, such as "Abide with Me" and the national anthems, are integral parts of the day.
  • Two-Up: In Australia, playing the traditional gambling game "two-up" is a common activity, legally permitted only on ANZAC Day, symbolising the camaraderie and spirit of the original ANZACs.


Memorial Day in the United States and ANZAC Day in Australia and New Zealand are deeply significant days that honour the sacrifices of military personnel. While their origins and customs differ, both serve as powerful reminders of national heritage, sacrifice, and the enduring values that define our nations. Through ceremonies, parades, and personal reflections, these important events ensure that the legacy of those who served is remembered and respected across generations.

Long may they endure, and long may our friendship as Nations endure. 

These are VERY, VERY important days. Never more than Now. 


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