CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Each year, the final Monday in May marks an American holiday intended to honor fallen United States Service members.

History of Memorial Day:

Formerly known as Decoration Day, the holiday began taking shape in the years following the Civil War. The war ended in 1865 and by that time, nearly 620,000 men had lost their lives.

By the late 1860s, many cities and towns across the country began holding tributes to the fallen soldiers.

It wasn’t until 1971 that Memorial Day became a federal holiday by an act of Congress.

It’s not completely clear exactly where Memorial Day observances began, but some historians believe Charleston, South Carolina is the birthplace of the holiday.

According to a Harvard University archive discovered in the 1990s, a file labeled ‘First Decoration Day’ details how a group of thousands of formerly enslaved people held a parade on a horse-race track with flowers, songs, bible recitations, and more.

The track was the Washington Race Course and Jockey Club, a country club turned war prison set up by the Confederate army to hold Union captives towards the end of the Civil War.

The parade was said to have taken place less than a month after the end of the war making it the earliest recorded observance of what we now know as Memorial Day.

The location of the Washington Race Course and Jockey Club is now Hampton Park in Downtown Charleston.

Old and new traditions:

Early observances set the stage for the traditions we still hold in the modern-day including visiting and decorating graves with flowers and flags, prayers, and bible recitations. One newer tradition is Memorial Day parades often incorporating veterans groups and military personnel.

A national moment of remembrance also takes place at 3 p.m. each Memorial Day.

The first national celebration was held on May 30th, 1868 at Arlington National Cemetery.

Memorial Day also marks the unofficial start of the summer season and prompts many people to take trips, spend time at the beach, grilling out with friends and family, and altogether spending time outdoors.