Memorial Day vs. Veterans Day: What’s the Difference?

If you're not sure what the difference is between Memorial Day and Veterans Day, you're not alone. Here's what you need to know.

Both Memorial Day and Veterans Day are official public holidays across the United States. But here are the key differences:

What the days honor

  • Memorial Day: This is to honor military personnel who died in the service of their country, particularly those who died in battle or as a result of wounds sustained in battle, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
  • Veterans Day: A holiday to remember everyone who served in the military, period, whether or not they served in wartime.

When they’re observed

  • Memorial Day: the last Monday of May
  • Veterans Day: November 11 of each year

How they’re observed

  • Memorial Day: Many people visit cemeteries and memorials, and volunteers often decorate the graves at national cemeteries with American flags, placing one on each grave. Many towns usually hold parades, as well. However, due to the current pandemic, parades in 2020 may be canceled. A national moment of remembrance takes place at 3:00 p.m. local time.
  • Veterans Day: Normally, towns hold parades, churches schedule special services, and families come together to thank living veterans for their service and to remember all those who served. However, due to the current pandemic, these may also be canceled. Don’t miss these simple ways to continue honoring veterans even after these holidays have passed.

How each originated

  • Memorial Day: It was first celebrated a year after the end of the Civil War, which claimed more lives than any conflict in U.S. history and required the establishment of the nation’s first national cemeteries, according to History.com. Until 1971, it was known as “Decoration Day” in reference to the decoration of graves.
  • Veterans Day: The first celebration was on November 11, 1919, to commemorate the end of World War I. Hostilities formally ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, when the Armistice with Germany went into effect. Until 1954, Veterans Day was known as “Armistice Day.” (This is why “Veterans Day” doesn’t have an apostrophe.)

Another day to keep in mind members of the military

Another holiday honoring members of the military is Armed Forces Day, which honors those currently serving in the U.S. military. It is observed after May Day, which is always May 1. It’s also helpful to keep in mind these 45 things that members of the U.S. military wish you knew as another way to support our troops.

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Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York-based writer whose work has appeared regularly on Reader's Digest, The Huffington Post, and a variety of other publications since 2008. She covers life and style, popular culture, law, religion, health, fitness, yoga, entertaining and entertainment. Lauren is also an author of crime fiction; her first full-length manuscript, The Trust Game, was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.