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.

Memorial Day vs. Veterans Day

Twice a year, two key holidays roll around that celebrate and honor Americans that have fought in our wars. Most people know that Memorial Day falls at the beginning of summer and view it as a nice long weekend to kick off a warmer season, but there is actually a lot more to know about the history of Memorial Day. Then in the fall, Veterans Day comes, and even though it’s another day to celebrate veterans, it’s not just a repeat of Memorial Day. 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. This year, it falls on Monday, May 31, 2021.
  • Veterans Day: November 11 of each year.

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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. People may buy Memorial Day decorations for their homes, and many towns usually hold parades, as well. However, due to the current pandemic, many parades will be canceled or celebrated on a much smaller scale. 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.

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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 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.”

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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.