arrow-downarrow-leftarrow-rightarrow-upchevron-upchevron-leftchevron-rightchevron-upclosecomment-newemail-newfullscreen-closefullscreen-opengallerygridheadphones-newheart-filledheart-openmap-geolocatormap-pushpinArtboard 1Artboard 1Artboard 1minusng-borderpauseplayplusprintreplayscreenshareAsset 34facebookgithubArtboard 1Artboard 1linkedinlinkedin_inpinterestpinterest_psnapchatsnapchat_2tumblrtwittervimeovinewhatsappspeakerstar-filledstar-openzoom-in-newzoom-out-new

Memorial Day

At the very moment of the final top ten round of the the 25th anniversary National Geographic Bee (congrats Sathwik Karnik!), yours truly was sitting on a stool in a glass-walled television studio at 30 Rockefeller Place undergoing a more gentle interrogation on the Today Show.

The questions asked me each concerned the upcoming holiday of Memorial Day and I did my best to express all the cool stuff I learned about America’s summer kick-off holiday. Many thanks to lovely hosts Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford for inviting me on the show and to all of you who watched my four minutes of fame.

For those who might have missed it, exactly how much do you know about Memorial Day? Can you correctly answer the following questions?

1. Do you know the lyrics to the Star-Spangled Banner? I assumed most Americans do (they should), but according to this article, less than 11% of Americans know the first verse of the historic song. The melody of the Star-Spangled Banner spans one-and-a-half octaves (one of the reasons it’s so hard to sing in a single key). Written by Francis Scott Key as a poem (“Defence of Fort McHenry“), it was later set to music but only officially adopted as the American national anthem in 1931. The original “star-spangled banner“–the oversized, hand-stitched American flag that flew over Baltimore harbor during the War of 1812–is on permanent display at the National Museum of American History.

2. What attracts American vacationers the most? A. Ocean B. Countryside C. National Parks D. Lakes

A. Ocean. Out of all the vacationing Americans this summer, more than half (51%) will travel to the ocean, versus 29% going to the countryside and 17% to freshwater lakes, while a mere 13% will visit one of our amazing national parks. I should also modestly add that as National Geographic’s Digital Nomad, I have been swimming in all five oceans. (I still want to ask Kathie Lee if she can name all five of the world’s oceans).

3. True or False: Observing a moment of silence at 3 pm on Memorial Day is the law.

TRUE! The National Moment of Remembrance was passed by an act of Congress in 2000 and encourages Americans to think beyond the clothing sales and pool parties, and take time to reflect and remember all those men and women who have died in the service of our nation (Check out No Greater Love for more info). The law asks Americans to pause at 3 pm. Today, more and more companies are observing the act–for instance, all Amtrak trains blow their whistles at 3 pm on Memorial Day.

4.Which famous cemetery has the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier?

Arlington National Cemetery is home to The Tomb of the Unknowns, where lie the unidentified remains of veterans from World War 1, World War II, and the Korean War, though the tomb represents all missing and unknown American service members. The elite Third United States Infantry (Old Guard) watch the tomb 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year, day night, rain & shine, hurricane and blizzard. Though there are many internet rumors about their strict standards, it is true that the Tomb guard takes up to 8 hours to prep their uniform for each work shift.

5. True or False? Memorial Day is the most popular holiday for grilling.

FALSE. When it comes to barbecuing, nothing beats out the 4th of July. According to the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association, grilling is most popular on July 4th (71%) versus Memorial Day (57%), and Labor Day (55%), and after burgers, steak is the most popular meat for grilling.

6. How many stripes are on the American flag?

Thirteen! There are thirteen stripes (seven red, six white) on the American flag, symbolizing the original thirteen colonies. However, the original star-spangled banner that inspired the song boasted 15 stripes (and 15 stars) to represent the states of Vermont and Kentucky, who joined the union in 1794. Today there are thirteen stripes and fifty stars.

7.  Memorial Day was originally known by what other name?

Decoration Day! During the American Civil War, various women’s societies would gather on a day in the spring and decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. Even after the ritual became a state-sanctioned holiday, different groups celebrated Decoration Day on different dates, both for political reasons and because flowers in the South tended to bloom about a month earlier than those in the North. May 30th was finally chosen as the optimal day for flowers nationwide, and in 1971, “Memorial” Day was established as the last Monday in May, although there Confederate Decoration Day is still observed in certain parts of the South.

8. Which city is NOT one of the Top Ten destinations this Memorial Day? A. Orlando B. Chicago C. New York City D. Dallas.

Dallas, Texas is NOT in the top ten, and frankly, this shocks me. As you know, I just spent a month traveling through Texas and happened to find Dallas pretty awesome and exciting. With all that oil money, the city has one of the most outstanding collections of art museums in the country, as well as a spectacular botanical garden. (The steak’s not bad either!) I’d definitely recommend Dallas for a long weekend.

Follow Nat Geo Travel


Get exclusive updates, insider tips, and special discounts on travel and more.

Sign Up Now

Subscribe Now


Trips With Nat Geo