Memorial Day is more than just a chance to celebrate the beginning of summer. There’s a reason we get the day off to relax with our loved ones. It’s to honor those that have given their lives for our country. This uniquely American holiday is an important part of our history.

Women in the South were laying flowers on the graves of soldiers during the Civil War, long before an actual holiday to honor soldiers was created. But the spirit of remembering the fallen grew to become a national affair. Nobody is sure where Memorial Day was first created. Many places have claimed to be the birthplace of the holiday. President Johnson declared Waterloo, N.Y. the place where it all began but still nobody knows the complete origins of the holiday. It’s very likely that towns celebrated their soldiers individually in the 1860s and this slowly grew into a movement across the country.

The first official Memorial Day was observed on May 30 1968. It was the idea of Gen. John Logan of the Union army. Flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington Cemetery. By 1890 all the states in the north recognized Memorial Day. But the Southern states refused to participate, instead honoring their dead on different days. It wasn’t until after World War I that the South joined in recognizing the holiday. At that point Memorial Day had changed from a day to honor those who had died in the Civil War to honoring all American soldiers.

While all the States celebrate Memorial Day on the last Monday in May some states still honor confederate soldiers on different days. These states are Texas, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, Louisiana and Tennessee.

You might see vets selling poppies around Memorial Day. That flower was chosen by Moina Michael who wrote a poem about poppies reminding us “That blood of heroes never dies.” She started to wear a poppy on Memorial Day and sell them with the proceeds going to help servicemen in need.

While we tend to associate Memorial Day with picnics and parades it is also an important day to thank the men and women who have fought for our country.