The History of Memorial Day and SAMS

On the last Monday in May, Americans observe the holiday known as Memorial Day. It is a day set aside to honor the men and women who died while serving in the United States military.

Memorial Day isn’t a holiday where people “celebrate,” necessarily, but many Americans acknowledge the day by spending time with their families, having picnics or barbecues, or visiting cemeteries or memorials. Some cities may have parades or other events. Chicago, New York, and Washington, D.C., all have well-known parades for Memorial Day.

The History of Memorial Day

The idea of Memorial Day dates all the way back to the Civil War in the United States. The Civil War ended in 1865, and in the following years, Americans in different communities began to gather in the springtime to remember the soldiers who had died in the war.

Because so many different communities had similar memorials in the spring, it’s hard to say where, exactly, Memorial Day originated. In fact, there are at least 25 cities and towns that “claim” they started the holiday.

Because families often decorated the graves of deceased loved ones on the day, the observance was initially called Decoration Day. The first Decoration Day was May 30, 1868.

For years, May 30 was observed as the date to remember service members who died. However, in 1968, the United States Congress designated the last Monday in May as Memorial Day, declaring it a federal holiday at the same time.

A shallow focus shot of an American soldier holding the American flag

What do Americans do on Memorial Day?

Since Memorial Day is a federal holiday, most government businesses close on the day. Closed businesses might include any public schools in session, the United States Postal Service, and most banks. The stock markets, DMVs, and courts also close across the United States on Memorial Day.

Many Americans take advantage of having an extra day off to spend time with their families. They may host a cookout or take their family and friends on a picnic.

Often, Memorial Day is thought of as the start of summer, so people may spend the day outside. They may participate in outdoor sports for the first time since fall. Swimming and watersports are popular activities, too.

Some people choose to observe the day by visiting cemeteries and perhaps putting flags or flowers on gravestones. If someone has a loved one who died in military service, they may choose to light a candle or remember them in some other way.

Memorial Day vs. Veterans Day

There is another federal holiday in the United States that involves the military: Veterans Day. While Memorial Day is on a different date every year, Veterans Day is on the same day consistently, November 11.

Want to know another big difference between the two holidays? Memorial Day specifically recognizes the sacrifices of those who died while serving in the military. On the other hand, the United States government designated Veterans Day to honor all military veterans — all people who served in any branch of the U.S. military. 

In the United States, there are five main branches of the military:

In addition, there are also reserve components, the Army National Guard and the Air National Guard, which partially operate under state authority, along with the authority of their respective branches.

Memorial Day and Veterans Day both recognize all branches of the military. There is also Armed Forces Day, an unofficial holiday that honors those who are currently serving in any branch of the military.

Scottish pride

What is SAMS?

Many veterans of the U.S. military choose to get involved with veterans groups after they complete their service. This includes veterans of all ages.

In addition to the widely known Veterans Association of America, there are veterans groups based on things like interests or heritage. In fact, there’s a group named SAMS, or Scottish-American Military Society, that — you guessed it! — seeks members of Scottish ancestry who served in the American (or Commonwealth) military.

But this group isn’t just for getting together and having a few drinks with the lads. SAMS members actively seek to educate the public. You’ll often find them supporting various Scottish activities at Highland games events around the U.S.

Maybe you’ve seen them at your local Highland Games! They have a specific dress code they encourage members to follow when representing SAMS at events.

men at arms

Scottish Military Regalia

Got the urge to dress yourself up in Scottish military regalia? The SAMS dress code is a useful guide if you want to dress as authentically as possible.

Here are a few things their dress code includes:

  • Of course, they encourage members to wear kilts representing any “appropriate” tartan. (However, for all you lads out there with less-than-awesome legs, trews, or Scottish trousers, are also acceptable attire.) There are tartans for the Navy, Air Force, Army, and Marine Corps. You can also wear a tartan representing your family or clan.

army badge with tartan

  • SAMS recommends plain black or brown shoes, but if you’re going all out, you can buy a pair of ghillies. They come in a wide range of materials and quality.
  • Good news: Flashes are encouraged! (You know, those things that hold your socks up.) And shove a sgian-dubh in there for good measure while you’re at it.
  • You know (traditional) kilts don’t have pockets, right? So you’re going to need somewhere to stash your keys, wallet, and phone. How about a beautiful fur sporran? You can also choose a simple leather one for less flair.
  • When you’re wearing a kilt, your choice of knife can become a fashion statement. Choose a dirk (or dagger) that suits your style; you can find them featuring intricately carved handles made from unique materials.
  • As for headgear, you have a few options. You can choose a Balmoral cap, also known as a tam. There’s also what’s known as a Glengarry bonnet, which is similar to what military branches in the U.S. wear. 
  • Ladies, you basically get the same dress code! A kilted skirt and tartan sash are both appropriate choices. You can pin your sash with a brooch or bow.
memorial day, memorial day traditions, sams, scottish american military society
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