Memorial Day, a federal holiday commemorating those who died while serving in the military, was celebrated on the same day of the month every year for a century before Congress voted to move it to always land on a Monday.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, by the end of the Civil War in 1865, several places across the country were holding tributes to fallen soldiers by placing flowers on their graves on different days, often in the spring.
In 1868, Major General John A. Logan, the head of a group of Union veterans, declared that the group would observe Decoration Day, as it was called at the time, on May 30 that year. According to the VA, that date came to be adopted by various states and military facilities over time.
In 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act which made Memorial Day a federal holiday that always landed on the last Monday of May starting in 1971.
The act also created or moved three other federal holidays to be on Mondays: Washington’s Birthday (often referred to as Presidents Day), Columbus Day, and Veterans Day. Veterans Day was later returned to its original set date of November 11.
The holidays were moved in part to allow workers in the country to enjoy long weekends. In signing the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, President Lyndon B. Johnson hoped to encourage Americans to use the time for leisure.
“The bill that we sign today will help Americans to enjoy more fully the country that is their magnificent heritage. It will also aid the work of Government and bring new efficiency to our economy…
This will mean a great deal to our families and our children. It will enable families who live some distance apart to spend more time together. Americans will be able to travel farther and see more of this beautiful land of ours. They will be able to participate in a wider range of recreational and cultural activities…
The private employer will enjoy similar gains in efficiency. The Monday holiday will stimulate greater industrial and commercial production, sparing business and labor the penalty of midweek shutdowns.”Pres. Johnson, June 28, 1968
Johnson’s vision doesn’t always work out as planned. According to the U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 90% of civilian workers got Memorial Day as a paid holiday in 2018, but the rate was much lower for Washington’s Birthday (24%) and Veterans Day (19%).