Posted by Laurie Montoya |   

Memorial Day weekend has come and gone, and while this year’s holiday looked different because of the state of the world, Memorial Day is still a very important commemoration. But how many people really know why we celebrate Memorial Day in the first place?

Well, a new poll by the University of Phoenix finds a lot of Americans are clueless about the fact that it’s a holiday to honor military members who gave their life serving in the armed forces.

In fact, only:

  • 43% of Americans know that’s the true reason for Memorial Day.
  • 28% of Americans look at Memorial Day as Veteran’s Day, a day where we honor all military veterans, not just the ones who lost their lives serving our country.
  • 36% of people admit they are unsure of the difference between Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day.
  • 46% of Americans know Memorial Day is celebrated on the last Monday in May.
  • 21% thought it fell on the last Sunday of May.
  • 83% of people believe it’s important to do something to commemorate the day.

Among the ways Americans plan to celebrate this year:

  • 43% – Fly a flag, leave a flag or flowers on the grave of someone who died serving in the U.S. Armed Forces
  • 30% – Attend a local ceremony or patriotic event
  • 30% – Fly a flag at half-mast
  • 29% – Visit a military monument or war memorial monument
  • 27% – Educate my children about the meaning of Memorial Day
  • 25% – Wear a Memorial Day button
  • 24% – Aid a family who lost someone serving in the U.S. Armed Forces
  • 22% – Educate myself about the meaning of Memorial Day
  • 22% – Memorial Day is a solemn day of remembrance for everyone who has died serving in the American armed forces.

The holiday, originally known as Decoration Day, started after the Civil War to honor the Union and Confederate dead. It’s unclear exactly where the holiday originated—Charleston, S.C., Waterloo, N.Y., Columbus, Ga. and other towns all claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day. The event in Charleston that may have precipitated Memorial Day offers poignant evidence of a country struggling to rebuild itself after a bloody war: 257 Union soldiers died in prison in Charleston during the Civil War and were buried in unmarked graves, and the town’s black residents organized a May Day ceremony in which they landscaped a burial ground to properly honor the soldiers. In the years following the Civil War, Memorial Day celebrations were scattered and, perhaps unsurprisingly, took root differently in the North and South. It wasn’t until after World War II that the holiday gained a strong following and national identity, and it wasn’t officially named Memorial Day until 1967. The final event that cemented the modern culture of Memorial Day in America was in 1968 when Congress passed the Uniform Holiday Act, designating Memorial Day as the last Monday in May rather than May 30, as it had previously been observed. This ensured a three-day weekend and gave the day its current status as the unofficial beginning of summer, mixing serious reflection with more lighthearted fun.