Here's what Memorial Day weekend has looked like since it became an official holiday in 1971

Jon Levy/ GettyMemorial Day began in 1971.

Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start of summer, as people typically flock to beaches, barbecues, and parties.

But the holiday wasn’t always about celebration and a long weekend. The holiday was originally named Decoration Day and was a day to honour the soldiers who died in the Civil War. It was celebrated on May 30. It wasn’t until 1968, when Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, that the holiday was moved to the last Monday in May.

In 1971, Memorial Day finally became a national holiday that honours soldiers who died while defending the country.

Although this year’s celebrations may look a bit different because of the coronavirus pandemic, the traditions of the holiday haven’t changed much over the decades.


In 1971, a woman enjoyed her Memorial Day weekend with a bike ride, as Denver closed down roads near parks so people could enjoy their day.

Duane Howell/ GettyWoman biking.

Today, roads aren’t the only things that close on Memorial Day weekend. For example, government offices and even some schools close their doors to honour veterans.


Memorial Day weekend traffic at the Holland Tunnel in New York was a reality even back in 1975.

New York Post Archives/ GettyTraffic at the Holland Tunnel.

In 2019, 43 million people were expected to travel during Memorial Day weekend. This year, not many will be travelling during Memorial Day weekend because of travel restrictions due to the coronavirus outbreak.


In 1975, two children played on an abandoned mattress in the warm Memorial Day weather.

Denver Post/ GettyChildren in 1975 during Memorial Day weekend.

Memorial Day has always been a day for families to have fun and be relaxed.


In 1973, however, the Coney Island beach was empty because of the cold and rainy weather.

Jim Wells/ APEmpty Coney Island.

Memorial Day in New York City in 1973 was colder than usual.


Though the skies were grey, some still tried to go to the beach that year.

Jim Wells/ APEmpty Coney Island during Memorial Day weekend.

Throughout the weekend, there was some rain and drizzle, but many still tried to enjoy their time off.


The campgrounds at some of the biggest state parks were overcrowded during the holiday weekend in 1978.

Ed Maker/ GettyThe campsite closed during Memorial Day weekend.

Although the state parks are still considered a great way to spend your Memorial Day weekend, this year some parks and beaches may be closed due to the coronavirus.


Those who got in to the campsites in ’78 were able to enjoy the weekend by the campfire.

Ed Maker/ GettyCampers during Memorial Day weekend.

Memorial Day weekend marks the start of the summer season, allowing many to reconnect with nature after the long winter months. Camping is the perfect way to do just that and to practice social distancing.


Other than the beach and travelling, the biggest Memorial Day activity has always been barbecuing.

Nina Leen/ GettyPeople enjoy their Memorial Day barbecue.

There are 818 hot dogs consumed every second from Memorial Day to Labour Day, according to WalletHub, and in 2019, 60% of people planned to have a barbecue over the holiday weekend.


A couple tied the knot aboard a hot air balloon during Memorial Day weekend in 1981.

Denver Post/ GettyMemorial Day weekend hot air balloon ride.

Memorial Day weekend is considered one of the best times of the year to say “I do.”


Also in 1981, a person was caught taking a break from moving homes during the holiday weekend.

John Sunderland/ GettyA person sleeping during Memorial Day weekend.

For most, Memorial Day weekend means an extended weekend, allowing many to nap or take care of bigger tasks.


Three women enjoy the warmer weather on a New York City rooftop during the holiday weekend in 1984.

New York Daily News Archive/ GettyWomen sunbathing during Memorial Day weekend.

Lounging out in the sun is a typical Memorial Day activity.


In 1982, Southern California had a bright and sunny Memorial Day weekend, with many flocking to the beach.

Doug Pizac/ APBeach during Memorial Day weekend.

The beach is one of the best places to spend Memorial Day weekend, as long as you’re keeping 6 feet away from others.


Some visit memorials in Washington, DC during the holiday weekend, like this family looking at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in 1983.

Bob Daugherty/ APThe Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC.

When safe to do so, the World War II Memorial in Washington, DC is a great place to honour the nation’s history.


In 1990, President George H.W. Bush attended a Memorial Day parade in Maine.

Marcy Nighswander/ APPresident George H.W. Bush at a Memorial Day parade.

Parades are common on Memorial Day throughout the country, and it’s a great way to honour fallen soldiers. However, this year, many parades and public celebrations have been cancelled for people’s safety.


The following year, in 1991, President George H.W. Bush was spotted again in Maine during the holiday weekend. But this time he was fishing on a boat.

Scott Perry/ APPresident George H.W. Bush fishing during Memorial Day weekend.

The holiday weekend is the perfect time for many outdoor activities, including fishing, hiking, and swimming – all while being mindful of social distancing guidelines.


In 1996, some people travelled to Venice Beach in California to enjoy entertainment and the warm weather during the holiday weekend.

Nick Ut/ APTourists watch an entertainer on Venice Beach.

Years later, Venice Beach is still a popular Memorial Day weekend destination, with an entire schedule of activities. This year, however, the Venice Beach boardwalk is closed.


In 1996, this family remembered those we’ve lost.

Chris Pizzello/ APFamily at a grave site during Memorial Day weekend.

Memorial Day isn’t always about sunshine and barbecues.


Boy scouts in Kentucky have been placing American flags at Zachary Taylor National Cemetery on Memorial Day weekend for decades, like this boy in 1997.

Michael Clevenger/ APBoy scout honouring Memorial Day.

In 2018, 6,000 Scouts placed 90,000 flags at the graveyard.


For some, the weekend is about having fun, like this boy in 1997.

The Boston Globe/ GettyBoy plays with silly string in 1997.

It’s the perfect time to reconnect with friends and family to have a bit of outdoor fun, as long as you’re adhering to your local safety guidelines.


In New York, every Memorial Day weekend is Fleet Week, where Navy sailors dock at the West Side Piers and take in the city, like in this photo from 1999.

Ed Bailey/ APSailors during Fleet Week.

When the sailors alight from the ships, people are able to explore the ships and learn about the Navy. It’s still a popular Memorial Day weekend tradition today. In 2020, however, Fleet Week was cancelled because of the coronavirus.


In 2020, many traditions have changed in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

Icon Sportswire / GettyParks in 2020.

While travelling, beach-going, parties, and barbecues were popular in the past, this year, Memorial Day will look quite different. Many will be wearing masks and standing 6 feet apart.


Of course, for American soldiers, Memorial Day has a meaning all its own.

GettySolider places a flag at a gravestone.

In the end, Memorial Day is about remembering those who fought and sacrificed their lives for our country, and that has been – and always will be – the holiday’s longest running tradition.

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