Memorial Day vs. Veterans Day: What we celebrate in May

Monday, Americans will commemorate Memorial Day, as custom every May. But the reason for the holiday is sometimes confused with another holiday celebrated in the fall. 

What is Memorial Day?

Memorial Day is a rolling federal holiday that’s celebrated on the fourth Monday of each May. 

Though the holiday was established through the Uniforms Holiday Bill in 1968, its origins stem as far back as the Civil War. In the 1860s, American civilians began to visit and decorate the gravesites of Union and Confederate soldiers. The springtime act of remembrance was eventually coined Decoration Day.


A person lays a rose on the grave of a soldier as people visit the Arlington National Cemetery, United States military cemetery, during the Memorial Day, which is held annually to honor those who died while serving in the armed forces in Virginia, Un

In 1868, the Grand Army of the Republic proclaimed Decoration Day to be a national holiday that should be observed on May 30, which fell in line with the blooming of most flowers. Congress officially recognized Decoration Day as a federal holiday in 1938.

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The holiday got a name change in 1966 when President Lyndon B. Johnson proclaimed the city of Waterloo, N.Y. as the birthplace of Memorial Day. Five years later, the holiday moved to the last Monday in May through the Uniforms Holiday Bill.

Memorial Day is still celebrated with civilian, state-run and federal decoration initiatives where flowers and American flags are planted on gravesites for veterans who lost their lives in the line of duty. Parades and military events are also held to commemorate these fallen soldiers.

What is Veterans Day?

Veterans Day is celebrated the same day each year – Nov. 11.

The American holiday was previously known as Armistice Day, which Congress established in 1938 to honor the active and retired soldiers who fought in World War I. The chosen date coincided with the end of World War I, which took place on Nov. 11, 1918.

Sixteen years later, veterans groups advocated for the holiday's name to include all those who had served in the military. The 83rd Congress honored this request and replaced the word "Armistice" with the word "Veterans" when they convened in June 1954. President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the H.R. 7786 bill four months after that and delivered an inaugural Veterans Day Proclamation.

The Uniforms Holiday Bill signed in 1968 tried to move Veterans Day and three other federal holidays to a Monday, so federal workers could have a three-day weekend, but the move was an unpopular one and President Gerald R. Ford signed a law that restored Veterans Day to its original date in 1975.

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Veterans Day is celebrated to this day with parades, military events, special retail promotions for service members and civilians thanking military personnel for their service.

Here are some ways to honor those who have served on Memorial Day and Veterans Day:

  • Attend a memorial service or ceremony.
  • Visit a veteran's cemetery or memorial.
  • Wear a red, white, and blue ribbon.
  • Donate to a veterans' organization.
  • Write a letter to a veteran.
  • Thank a veteran for their service.

FOX News and FOX 26 Houston contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.