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.

Every year, two seemingly similar holidays at opposite ends of the calendar celebrate and honor Americans who have served our country. You may know that Memorial Day falls on the last Monday of May, creating a nice long weekend that kicks off summer (it falls on May 27 in 2024). Additionally, there’s Veterans Day, which falls annually on Nov. 11 and serves an entirely different purpose. 

With Veterans Day approaching, this is the perfect time to learn the differences between Memorial Day vs. Veterans Day, along with how they are celebrated. 

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What’s the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day?

Memorial Day Vs Veterans Day Graphic

Memorial Day and Veterans Day are both public and federal holidays in the United States that honor members of the military. You’ll likely see many people sharing patriotic quotes on those days, but there are key differences between Memorial Day vs. Veterans Day.

The meaning of Memorial Day vs. Veterans Day 

  • Memorial Day: This holiday honors military personnel who died in service of their country.
  • Veterans Day: This holiday honors everyone who has served in the military, whether or not they served in wartime or died in battle.

When Memorial Day and Veterans Day are observed

  • Memorial Day: The last Monday of May
  • Veterans Day: Nov. 11 of each year

How Memorial Day and Veterans Day are observed

  • Memorial Day: Many people visit cemeteries and memorials, while 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 p.m. local time.
  • Veterans Day: Normally, towns hold parades, churches schedule special services and families—military families and others—come together to thank living veterans for their service and 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 other conflict in U.S. history and required the establishment of the nation’s first national cemeteries. Until 1971, the holiday was known as “Decoration Day” in reference to the decoration of graves.
  • Veterans Day: Have you ever wondered why Veterans Day is celebrated on Nov. 11.? Well, the first celebration was on Nov. 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.

Is Memorial Day only for fallen soldiers?

Memorial Day is dedicated only to those who died in battle or after injuries sustained in battle, rather than active-duty soldiers or living veterans.

Does Veterans Day honor all veterans?

Yes, Veterans Day honors all veterans.

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 annually on the third Saturday of May.


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Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York–based writer whose work has appeared regularly on Reader's Digest and in 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, and 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.