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 at opposite ends of the calendar 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 spring weekend to kick off the warmer season (Memorial Day 2022 falls on Monday, May 30th by the way), but there is a lot more to know about the history of Memorial Day. Veterans Day arrives in the fall, and even though it’s also a day to celebrate veterans, it’s not a repeat of Memorial Day.

Why is Memorial Day confused with Veterans Day?

Both Memorial Day and Veterans Day are public holidays in the United States that honor members of the military, and you’ll likely see many people sharing patriotic quotes on those days, but there are key differences between the holidays. Here’s what to know about Memorial Day vs. Veterans Day—and don’t forget to read up on the history of Memorial Day poppies, too.

What Memorial Day and Veterans Day honor

  • Memorial Day: This holiday is to honor military personnel who died in 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 has served in the military, period, whether or not they served in wartime.

When Memorial Day and Veterans Day are observed

  • Memorial Day: The last Monday of May. If you’re looking for quotes to share on this day, here are some Memorial Day quotes that pay tribute to the fallen.
  • Veterans Day: November 11 of each year.

How Memorial Day and Veterans Day are 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 run to the store and buy Memorial Day decorations for their homes, and many towns hold annual parades, as well. 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 who have served.

How Memorial Day and Veterans Day originated

  • Memorial Day: This holiday 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.”

Another day to keep members of the military in mind

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 May 1. It’s also helpful to keep in mind these 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.