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For as long as Memorial Day in the United States has been the widely acknowledged unofficial start of the summer season, Americans have been complaining that the holiday isn’t celebrated the way it’s supposed to be.
When TIME commented in 1972 that the holiday had become “a three-day nationwide hootenanny that seems to have lost much of its original purpose,” the magazine was already comparatively late to bemoaning Memorial Day’s party reputation.
For one thing, there were only a handful of holidays on which workers got a day off, note historians Richard P. By 1890 all of the Northern states had followed New York, and in 1889 Congress made May 30 a national holiday.
The secular and sacred aspects of the day combined pleasure and recreation with mourning and ceremonies to express sorrow and unity.In 1889 the Grand Army of the Republic noted the “growing tendency to make Memorial Day an occasion for festivity and indulgence in games and sports foreign to the purpose of the day and the sacred spirit which ought to characterize it” during their annual meeting, and decried the “indulgence in public sports, pastimes and all amusements on Memorial Day as inconsistent with the proper purposes of the day.” In Chicago in 1896, Rev. None of that naysaying seemed to have much effect on how people spent their Memorial Days.By the time the first Indianapolis 500 race was held on May 30, 1911, it wasn’t a hotly contested or unusual event.And, ironically, it turned out that the movement of Memorial Day away from its Civil War origins would help the holiday endure for decades to come.The GAR would reach its peak membership near the end of the 19th century, as a younger generation who hardly remembered the Civil War was coming into its own — and yet Memorial Day lived on.