In the U.S., Memorial Day and Veterans Day are annual federal holidays used to commemorate the lives of soldiers and others who have served in the armed forces. Memorial Day commemorates those men and women who died serving in the United States Armed Forces, while Veterans Day honors everyone who has served in the United States Armed Forces, not only those who have passed.

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Memorial Day versus Veterans Day comparison chart
Edit this comparison chartMemorial DayVeterans Day
Introduction (from Wikipedia) Memorial Day is a United States federal holiday which occurs every year on the final Monday of May. Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. Veterans Day is an official United States holiday which honors people who have served in armed service also known as veterans. It is a federal holiday that is observed on November 11.
Date Last Monday in May November 11
Observances Remembrance of American war dead Honoring everyone who has served in armed service
Origin After the American Civil War, to commemorate both Union and Confederate soldiers who died during the war. After World War I, to honor veterans who had served in World War I.
Originally known as Decoration Day Armistice Day
Birth of the Holiday May 5, 1866 in Waterloo, NY November 11, 1919
Declared by President Lyndon B Johnson Woodrow Wilson
Observed by United States United States
Type National National
Frequency Annual Annual
What institutions are closed? Government offices, agencies and institutions; schools. Government offices, agencies and institutions; schools.
Are private companies & institutions closed? Because Memorial Day is always a Monday, employees usually get the day off to make it a long weekend. Sometimes, not necessarily. Depends on the employer policy.


Memorial Day began after the American Civil War as a way to commemorate both Union and Confederate soldiers who had died during the war. The day was not an official national holiday originally, but rather started as a simple occasion for decorating the graves of fallen soldiers in various parts of the country.

There is debate over what was the first widely publicized memorial event: Some believe the first memorial event was held in Charleston, South Carolina, on May 1, 1865, shortly after Abraham Lincoln's death. Charleston was chosen because 257 Union prisoners of war had died there and had been hastily buried in unmarked graves, thereby leaving a need for a more honorable commemoration. According to The US Department of Veterans Affairs, one of the first Memorial Day observances occurred in Columbus, Mississippi, on April 25, 1866, when a group of women visited a cemetery to decorate the graves of Confederate soldiers who had fallen in the Battle of Shiloh.

Memorial Day's significance changed over time as the public grew to recognize all soldiers who had fallen in battle instead of only those involved in the Civil War.

Honoring war veterans with flags and flowers at a war cemetery.
Honoring war veterans with flags and flowers at a war cemetery.

Veterans Day began in 1919 when President Woodrow Wilson instituted it as an occasion for honoring veterans who had died in World War I. It occurs on November 11, because that was the day on which the major hostilities of the war ended when the Armistice with Germany went into effect; when the commemorative day began it was known as Armistice Day.

A congressional act on May 13, 1938, made the day a legal holiday. Though Veterans Day at first regarded only those soldiers who had died in World War I, in 1945 a World War II veteran named Raymond Weeks had the idea to expand the holiday to include all veterans. This idea gained widespread approval, and a few years later on May 26, 1954, Congress officially passed a bill changing the purpose of the holiday.


When Memorial Day first came to be, it was actually known as Decoration Day, because it would be a day for people to decorate the graves of fallen Civil War soldiers. The name Memorial Day was not used at all until 1882, and did not become more common until after World War II. It became the official name as declared by federal law in 1967. The date of the holiday was originally chosen to be May 30th after General John Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic declared Decoration Day to be observed annually, due to this being the supposed optimal date for flowers to be in bloom. When the Uniform Monday Holiday Act passed in 1968, the date changed to become the last Monday in May instead of strictly May 30th.

War veterans in a Veterans Day parade
War veterans in a Veterans Day parade

Veterans Day was originally known as Armistice Day, named after the armistice with Germany. The was the holiday's name for many years until the time at which the holiday was extended to include all veterans. A few days after Congress made modified the holiday’s purpose, on June 1, 1954, Armistice Day became Veterans Day. The actual date of the holiday has remained the same since its inception; however, when November 11th does not fall on a Monday, employers often allow the following Monday to be a day off.

Date and Significance

Both holidays are both a federal and state holidays, and, therefore, all government agencies close, leaving all government workers off for the full duration of these days.

Memorial Day is celebrated on the last Monday of every year. The date therefore varies every year, but Memorial Day is always a 3-day long weekend. Families of late war veterans often visit burial sites to remember their lost loved ones. Also, because of its timing, it marks the end of spring and the beginning of summer. Private institutions and employers are not required to give this day off, but they usually do.

Friends and family of Vietnam war veterans honoring lost loved ones in Washington DC
Friends and family of Vietnam war veterans honoring lost loved ones in Washington DC

Veterans Day occurs on a fixed date every year—November 11—unlike Memorial Day. It may or may not be a long weekend. While Veterans Day is still a federal and state holiday, private employers are not required to give the day off to their employees, and most often don't. Families may or may not visit burial sites. Veterans Day has no particular seasonal significance.

Celebration Traditions

Memorial Day has for a long time been a day of speeches. Veterans, politicians, and ministers see this day as an opportunity to honor the fallen and unite people around common values of freedom and sacrifice for a better future. Ceremonies that may or may not include speeches are conducted across the country in cemeteries to honor the dead and bring loved ones together. In the past, money was sometimes raised on this day to make monuments to the dead, and many of the same women who accomplished those works began a tradition of laying flowers on the graves of the fallen that continues to this day. Annual visits to some of the monuments that have been created are also common. Often, different groups of people conduct religious ceremonies on Memorial Day with a potluck dinner afterwards where everyone brings food and eats together.

Memorial Day is a day of remembrance and may be somber. For this reason, some take issue with the phrase "Happy Memorial Day," as for many, the day is not necessarily a "happy" one. Despite this, celebrations and parades take place on Memorial Day, just as they do on Veterans Day, a fact that sometimes blurs the lines between the two traditions.

Here is the entire footage of the National Memorial Day Parade of 2013 at the Capitol:

Each year on Veterans Day, memorial services are held at cemeteries all around the country. One of the traditions developed for these ceremonies is the laying of the wreath, where a decorative wreath is left on a memorial site in honor of those who have fallen. Other traditions include various sorts of parades, often with military marching bands, as well as religious gatherings where eating is customary.

Annual Events

Though events of all kinds are held all around the country for both Memorial Day and Veterans Day, each holiday in today’s time tends to have some large-scale events that many people can attend.

Each year on Memorial Day, the U.S. Capitol has a free concert sponsored by PBS for all of the public featuring famous artists along with the National Symphony Orchestra on the Sunday before Memorial Day. The following day, the National Memorial Day Parade is held, complete with marching band and veterans. Also, on this day, a wreath laying ceremony occurs at Arlington National Cemetery and features a speech from the president.

Veterans Day celebrations include parades and commemoration ceremonies across the country, but there is no parade in the nation’s capital. Ceremonies are held at Arlington Cemetery for wreath laying at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and for women in military service, complete with a keynote speaker and veterans' remarks.


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