Memorial Day is a lot more than a free day off of work or a day of big sales and BBQs. Formerly known as Decoration Day, it commemorates U.S. soldiers who died while in the military service.

It was first enacted by former enslaved Africans to honor Union soldiers of the American Civil War. It was extended after World War I to honor Americans who have died in all wars.

Begun as a ritual of remembrance and reconciliation after the Civil War, by the early 20th century, Memorial Day was an occasion for more general expressions of memory, as ordinary people visited the graves of their deceased relatives, whether they had served in the military or not. It also became a long weekend increasingly devoted to shopping, family get-togethers, fireworks, trips to the beach, and national media events such as the Indianapolis 500 auto race, held since 1911 on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend.

Many people observe Memorial Day by visiting cemeteries and memorials. A national moment of remembrance takes place at 3 p.m. local time. Another tradition is to fly the flag of the United States at half-staff from dawn until noon local time. Volunteers often place American flags on each grave site at National Cemeteries.

One of the longest-standing traditions is the running of the Indianapolis 500, an auto race which has been held in conjunction with Memorial Day since 1911. It runs on the Sunday preceding the Memorial Day holiday. The Coca-Cola 600 stock car race has been held later the same day since 1961. The Memorial Tournament golf event has been held on or close to the Memorial Day weekend since 1976.

The National Memorial Day Concert takes place on the west lawn of the United States Capitol. The concert is broadcast on PBS and NPR. Music is performed, and respect is paid to the men and women who gave their lives for their country.

No matter what you have planned for the weekend remember what it is all really about. There are Soilders in foxholes and under fire as you read this fighting for the freedom we enjoy everyday. While the kiddos are at play this Memorial Day share the history of what we are celebrating.

Have a Great and Safe Memorial Day. God Bless our Brothers and Sisters who are fighting now and those who have given their lives to ensure our liberties and way of life.