Though the observances continued, at the end of the 19th century, memories of the Civil War began to wane, and with the day falling on the last day of May, was beginning to be celebrated as a summer holiday. At the time, workers had few days off, and it soon became common practice to visit cemeteries in the morning and engage in more relaxing activities in the afternoon. By the mid 1880s, newspaper editorials decried that the holiday had become “desecrated” by people playing sports on Decoration Day, but that didn’t have much effect on the general populace. By the time the first Indianapolis 500 race was held on May 30, 1911, barely an eye was batted. 

However, the world wars in the first half of the 20th century brought Decoration Day back into the public consciousness. In fact, the day originally only honored soldiers who had been killed in the Civil War, but as America entered into conflict after conflict in the 20th century, the day evolved to honor all of our fallen dead. 

In order to create three-day weekends, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act in 1968, which established the day as an official federal holiday called “Memorial Day” to be celebrated on the last Monday in May. With that three-day holiday in effect and fewer and fewer people having personal connections to the military, the drumbeat towards Memorial Day becoming the start of the summer season only continued onward. 

Today, many towns and cities across the country do still hold solemn Memorial Day observances and parades to honor fallen military members. And while this year, the summer celebrations may be distant and less social, America may need the merriment we now associate with Memorial Day more than ever.