Most people understand that Memorial Day and Veterans Day are both recognized regarding something to do with the military. Yet, it’s not clear to everyone what the difference really is.
Memorial Day falls on the last Monday in May while Veterans Day is on November 11th each year. But there are more differences between these two public holidays than just where they end up on a calendar.
In order to properly observe and celebrate these important days, it’s common to wonder what is the real difference is between Memorial and Veterans Day. So, let’s dive a little deeper into their history and how to appropriately observe each one.
What is the difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day?
Veterans Day was originally known as Armistice Day and is observed to honor all military veterans. Worldwide, other holidays sometimes referred to as Remembrance Day or Armistice Day fall around the same time of year since it marks the anniversary of the end of World War I.
The first Veterans Day (when it was called Armistice Day) occurred in 1938 and the name was changed in 1954.
On the other hand, Memorial Day is observed to honor all those who died while serving in the military. This is the overall distinction between the two holidays. Commonly, the graves of fallen soldiers are decorated with the American flag on Memorial Day to pay respects and honor their memory.
Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day and has a complicated history with origins seeming to come from southern states during the Civil War era. The tradition of decorating graves is why Memorial Day began as Decoration Day.
The first Memorial Day was actually celebrated as Confederate Memorial Day in 1874. It wasn’t until after World War II that Memorial Day as we now know it became more common and it went into full federal effect in 1971. Clearly, its origins made it difficult for some states to agree to its adoption.
From there, it became an opportunity to address the Civil War and comment on the atrocities that took place. Now, it’s clear that Memorial Day is a day to remember those who lost their lives in all of America’s wars and honor them for their sacrifice.
In recent times, Memorial Day also represents the unofficial start to summer.
Difference Between Memorial Day and Veterans Day and Labor Day
There is a third federal holiday that is still different from both Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Although it isn’t related to the military, Labor Day can sometimes be confused among public holidays.
Labor Day is celebrated on the first Monday in September every year and was established to honor the American labor movement. The first Labor Day parade was organized in New York City in the late 19th century and Oregon was the first state to make Labor Day an official public holiday in 1887.
At that time, trade unions and labor movements were growing exponentially which is why associations like the Central Labor Union and the Knights of Labor were promoting Labor Day to celebrate those efforts.
Nowadays, Labor Day is also noted as the unofficial end of summer.
Difference Between Memorial Day and Veterans Day – What’s the Appropriate Way to Celebrate?
When looking back on the history of both Memorial Day and Veterans Day, it’s easy to see why military families and veterans can get offended by the way some Americans choose to celebrate and observe these public holidays.
Especially in the case of Memorial Day, people are given the day off from work and they in turn often spend their time at BBQs, on boats, and at the beach to commemorate the start of summer, more so than they honor those who died for their country.
So, what are the most appropriate ways to celebrate Memorial Day and Veterans Day?
In the case of Memorial Day, volunteers can help decorate military graves at national cemeteries. If you’d like to get involved in this special way, you can sign up to do so. You can also visit the local military memorials in your city or visit an Armed Forces museum nearby to think about and remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. The national moment of remembrance takes place at 3:00 p.m. on Memorial Day.
On Veterans Day, it’s a day to honor all veterans. It’s opportunity to, again, visit memorials and attend military museums, but it’s also a day where you can visit with living veterans in your own family and community. This is a great day to display an American flag outside your home to show respect, volunteer at your local VA, attend a Veterans Day event to thank a veteran in person, or even donate to important causes that help veterans with the struggles they face.
To find your local VA, check out their website.