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11 Veterans Day Facts You Didn’t Learn in School

That November date has a major significance. Find out the history of Veterans Day and more facts that'll help you appreciate the meaning of this holiday.

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What is Veterans Day?

On November 11, many Americans will have a day off of work and school to honor the individuals who have served in our military. With approximately 18 million military veterans living in the United States, it’s important not to think of it as “just another holiday.” Here’s why we celebrate Veterans Day, how it’s different than Memorial Day, and some more Veterans Day facts that Americans might not know about this celebratory day. And make sure to check out these simple but powerful ways you can support veterans.

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It began with a different name

Veterans Day wasn’t always called that—and it has to do with how the holiday got started. Veterans Day can trace its origins back to November 11, 1919, the one-year anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I. President Woodrow Wilson declared that day “Armistice Day.” In 1926, Congress passed a resolution to make it an annual occurrence. It wasn’t until 1938 that it actually became a federal holiday, and until 1954 that it got the name we know it by today. President Dwight D. Eisenhower changed it to Veterans Day so that it would honor all veterans, not just signify the end of a single war. Did you know that these everyday things were designed for World War I?

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The day was swapped once

Because of its connection to the end of World War I, Veterans Day is November 11, no matter what day of the week that is. (Mostly, but we’ll get to that later.) This differs from Memorial Day, Presidents’ Day, and Thanksgiving, holidays that fall on a specific day of the week, not a specific date. But this wasn’t always the case! In 1968, Congress passed the “Uniform Holidays Act,” which put Veterans Day on the fourth Monday in October. It took effect in 1971—but in 1975, President Gerald Ford signed a law returning it to November 11. Read about the nicest things people have done to honor veterans all year round.

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It’s never on Sundays

Because many workers enjoy a day off for Veterans Day, the date of the observance can be tweaked if it falls on a weekend. Specifically, if November 11 is a Sunday, the federal holiday will generally be moved to the next day, Monday. If it’s on a Saturday, the holiday might become Friday or just remain on the Saturday. Alternatively, if it’s on a weekend, many companies will provide their employees with a “floating holiday” so that they can choose when to take the day off. We bet you didn’t know that these 31 famous people were veterans.

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How it differs from Memorial Day

Many people mix up Memorial Day and Veterans Day, or at least think they’re celebrating the same thing—but there’s a significant difference. Memorial Day honors Americans who have died in the line of duty; Veterans Day commemorates all Americans who have served their country honorably. Find out more about how Veterans Day and Memorial Day are different.

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Memorial Day is older (and simultaneously newer)

Memorial Day actually dates all the way back to the Civil War. This holiday began in the 1860s as people held observances to honor those who died in the Civil War and adorn their graves with flowers. While Veterans Day was started to commemorate the end of World War I, about half a century later, it actually became a federally recognized holiday before Memorial Day did! Veterans Day (then called Armistice Day) became a federal holiday in 1938—Memorial Day didn’t until 1971. Learn more things you never learned about Memorial Day.

War memorial for the military and its fallen veteransJenniferPhotographyImaging/Getty Images

How it differs from Armed Forces Day

Do these Veterans Day facts have you wondering if there’s a holiday to celebrate current American service members—since “veterans” are technically people who’ve served in the past? Well, there is—it’s called Armed Forces Day, and it falls on the third Saturday in May, so it’s in close proximity to Memorial Day. The celebration of Women Veterans Day is also becoming increasingly popular. It falls on June 12, the anniversary of the day women were first allowed to serve as permanent members of the U.S. military. Though not a nationally recognized holiday, some states commemorate it.

Beautiful Greeting Card on Veterans day. Preparation for the holidaySviatlana Barchan/Getty Images

Its “incorrect grammar” is intentional

If you’re a grammar aficionado, you might be wondering, “Shouldn’t it be Veterans’ Day?” If it’s their day, where’s the apostrophe? Well, it actually is just Veterans Day. That might seem like a grammar error, but it isn’t. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs itself, it’s not actually “their” day but “a day for honoring all veterans” more generally. Check out our full explanation of why there’s no apostrophe in Veterans Day.

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Arlington National Cemetery holds a commemorative ceremony

The 624-acre Arlington National Cemetery is home to the final resting place of more than 400,000 military servicemen, women, and their families. As such, they hold an observance on Veterans Day every year at 11 a.m. (the time the World War I armistice was signed). Guards lay a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and veterans’ organizations hold a parade of colors. The ceremony is free and open to the public; would-be attendees are encouraged to arrive at least an hour early. How COVID-19 will affect the ceremony in 2020 remains to be seen. Find out more things you never knew about Arlington National Cemetery.

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Other countries celebrate different versions of it

November 11, 1918, was the end of World War I, so the United States isn’t the only nation that commemorates that date. Canada, Australia, France, and Belgium call it Remembrance Day. The United Kingdom observes Remembrance Sunday on the second Sunday of November. In the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth countries, it’s customary to observe two minutes of silence to honor people who died in war. Interestingly, this two-minute silence tradition actually originated in South Africa—before the end of World War I! Check out these great movies to watch on Veterans Day.

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Veterans eat free

Just like pretty much any other holiday, stores and businesses seize the opportunity to offer sales and promos around Veterans Day. Some of them are specifically for veterans (as they should be!). Take the opportunity to take a beloved veteran in your life out for a good meal. Places like Applebee’s, Olive Garden, IHOP, and many more have promotions for veterans that you won’t want to miss. Here are 30 places where veterans can eat for free on Veterans Day.

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Veterans don’t necessarily fight in wars

Another common misconception about Veterans Day (and veterans in general) is that all veterans have gone to war. Many members of the American military serve during peacetime, too, often with acts of service like disaster relief right here at home. Next, find out 45 things members of the U.S. military wish you knew.

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Meghan Jones
Meghan Jones is a Staff Writer for RD.com who has been writing since before she could write. She graduated from Marist College with a Bachelor of Arts in English and has been writing for Reader's Digest since 2017. In spring 2017, her creative nonfiction piece "Anticipation" was published in Angles literary magazine. She is a proud Hufflepuff and member of Team Cap.