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The story of Memorial Day and why Americans celebrate it

Here is the story of Memorial Day, as told by Arlington National Cemetery. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

This Monday, America will be shut down for a very good reason: to honor the men and women of the past and present who have given the ultimate sacrifice while serving in our armed forces.

Arlington National Cemetery, the largest military cemetery in the U.S., tweeted the story of Memorial Day and how it evolved from a post-Civil War celebration to the major national holiday that America celebrates today.

What's the story?

According to Arlington, Memorial Day began in the aftermath of the Civil War when families from both sides laid flowers on the graves of those lost in the war. It was initially known as "Decoration Day."

The national observance of Memorial Day began when Maj. Gen. John A. Logan, then leader of the Grand Army of the Republic, a fraternal organization for Union veterans, designated May 30, 1868 for the celebration of Decoration Day.

But the celebration quickly evolved from just a day honoring fallen Civil War veterans to a day honoring every American who gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country. With the meaning change came a name change. According to Arlington, people began referring to the holiday as "Memorial Day" by the late 19th Century.

In 1968, then-President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which established the national observance of Memorial Day on the last Monday each May.

"These #MemorialDay ceremonies, rooted in 150 years of tradition, ensure that the United States will never forget those who died in the armed forces and the country for which they served," according to Arlington, which has approximately 400,000 graves on its land.

Read the full story below:

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