This Memorial Day, millions of Americans will fire up the backyard grill, stuff their cars for trips to the beach or just laze about with beers. While the weekend marks the unofficial beginning of summer, it’s also important to remember the roots of your day off. Memorial Day marks when this country recognizes the sacrifices made by armed service members lost to bloody conflict through history — not just an opportunity to get a great base tan or drink with your buddies.
The day began as a way to show remembrance for lives lost after the American Civil War, in which more than 600,000 Americans were killed. Previously called Decoration Day for the wreaths and flowers left at soldiers’ graves, it was enshrined as a national holiday and three-day weekend to take place on the last Monday in May by a Congressional act in 1968.
With the day off from work — unless your boss is a total meanie or you toil in retail — spend some time at a remembrance parade or visit your relatives’ graves. Try to remember all those who sacrificed to give us all a day to sleep late and splash around in the ocean or pool.
In addition to being Memorial Day this year, May 25 was also an important day throughout history, as we show you below, which should help give you some perspective of the length and breadth of the world that came before us.
240 BC: The first recorded and closest to the sun passage of Halley’s Comet.
And then nothing happened for a long, long time until:
1085: Alfonso VI of Castile takes Toledo, Spain, back from the Moors.
1878: Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera “H.M.S. Pinafore” opens at the Opera Comique in London.
1925: The Scopes Trial began after John T. Scopes was indicted for teaching Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution in Tennessee.
1935: Jesse Owens of Ohio State University breaks three world records and ties a fourth at the Big Ten Conference Track and Field Championships in Ann Arbor, Mich.
1940: At the start of World War II, the 2nd German Panzer Division captured the port of Boulogne-sur-Mer and the surrender of the last French and British troops marks the end of the Battle of Boulogne.
1953: The United States conducted its first and only nuclear artillery test at the Nevada Test Site.
1953: The first public television station in the United States officially begins broadcasting as KUHT from the campus of the University of Houston.
1961: The Apollo space program is launched under then-President John F. Kennedy, who announces before a special joint session of the Congress his goal to initiate a project to put a “man on the Moon” before the end of the ’60s.
1977: “Star Wars: A New Hope” is released in theaters, inspiring the Jediism religion and Geek Pride Day holiday.
1977: A decades-old ban on William Shakespeare’s work is lifted by the Chinese government, effectively ending the Cultural Revolution that started in 1966.
1979: Etan Patz, 6, disappeared from the street just two blocks away from his home in New York City, prompting an international search that eventually led President Ronald Reagan to designate May 25 as National Missing Children’s Day in 1983.
1985: Approximately 10,000 people are killed when Bangladesh was hit by a tropical cyclone and storm surge.
2011: Oprah Winfrey ends the 25-year run “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”
2012: The Dragon spacecraft became the first commercial spacecraft to successfully rendezvous with the International Space Station.
That’s all for your walk through the history of May 25. So enjoy the day, party safe and don’t forget the sunscreen. Just don’t forget to take a pause to remember the sacrifices of armed services members who contributed to the freedom we have now to stuff ourselves with hot dogs, hamburgers and cold beers.
Noah Zuss is a reporter for TheBlot Magazine.