Traditionally, Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer and a weekend full of parades, hamburgers and long road trips. Most importantly, it’s a day to remember those who have died in defense of this country, although the holiday had a rocky start in this regard.
Despite its status as a national holiday, the origins of what was once known as “Decoration Day” are shrouded in incomplete historical records and the division between the North and the South caused by the Civil War.
According to USMemorialDay.org, the original name for the holiday was inspired when women adorned Confederate soldiers’ gravestones after the Civil War ended. But tensions between the two regions caused the holiday to be stuck in limbo as a national celebration for more than 50 years.
Memorial Day was first proclaimed in 1868 when the graves of soldiers buried at Arlington Cemetery in Washington D.C. were decorated. By 1890, all the northern states adopted the holiday, but the South refused and celebrated the dead in their own ways. That changed in the early 20th century, when the holiday was changed to also honor the people who died in World War I.
In 1971, the U.S. Congress officially made Memorial Day a federal holiday.
The holiday is also a time to travel. AAA Southern New England forecasts that only 500,000 more Americans -- a very slight 1.2% increase -- will travel from May 24 – 28, compared to the 34.3 million travelers last year.
Of the overall 34 million:
- 88% or 30.7 million plan to drive to their destination, a 1.2% increase over last year, again making auto travel the traditional mode of holiday transportation;
- 7% or 2.5 million will fly, a 5.5% decrease from last year; and
- 4.5% are expected to travel by other modes, including rail, bus and watercraft.
According to the survey of intended travelers:
- 47% said they would compensate by economizing: cutting their entertainment costs, staying at budget hotels, staying with friends and relatives; taking shorter trips or traveling some other way than car;
- While 53% of those surveyed claimed high gas costs would have no impact on their plans. These are the die-hard American travelers, who consider travel a mainstay and are a bit more affluent than most.
Despite seasonal highs in early spring, national gasoline prices may have peaked in April, when prices fell for 23 of the 30 days in the month, helping break a 911-day streak since the national average price was lower than the previous year. On May 21, the national average price for a gallon of gas is $3.70, 17 cents lower compared to this time last year.
In Connecticut, average gas prices also dropped. On May 21, the statewide average is $3.96 26 cents lower than this time last year.