Since yesterday was Memorial Day, we saw scenes from several services around the country commemorating our fallen soldiers. This set off a conversation with my husband.
I asked him if he had ever heard of the day being referred to as “Decoration Day.” He did not, but I told him that I recall my father calling it by that name, and a tweet by the National Archives confirmed what I had remembered (Aha!):
#MemorialDay began as “Decoration Day” because of the tradition of decorating #CivilWar soldiers’ graves.
Apparently, Decoration Day was the original name of this day, which was originally created to honor our Civil War dead of the Union Army and eventually expanded to include fallen soldiers of all wars. (It should be noted that Confederate Memorial Day is currently celebrated as a state holiday in five Southern states.)
Sometime during the mid-twentieth century, the name officially was changed to Memorial Day, and it became a national holiday in 1971—celebrated on the last Monday in May. But to Dad it was Decoration Day.
I was curious to see if Russia celebrates a day in remembrance of their war dead, but all I could find was their equivalent of Veteran’s Day—Defender of the Fatherland Day—and Victory Day, which celebrates the victory of the Soviet Union over Hitler’s Germany.
My father’s Uncle Mark had come to America with my grandmother but returned with the family during the Great Depression. He ultimately died during the Siege of Leningrad. If my three Russian first cousins are still alive, then Defender of the Fatherland Day would be the day that they should be celebrating each year.