Memorial Day is not a 20th-century tradition. Its beginning dates back to the Civil War; the first observance was on May 30, 1868. Originally conceived as Decoration Day—meant for bedecking the burial sites of fallen soldiers—flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.

But the Civil War proved divisive long after the last drop of blood was shed. By 1890 all of the northern states celebrated the holiday at the end of May, but southerners honored their dead on different dates until after World War I.

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