Memorial Day and Veterans Day, explained

If you are in the United States, today is Memorial Day! No doubt you’ll see some Facebook snobs condescendingly criticizing those who mistake Memorial Day and Veterans Day. There’s no need to be pretentious, but the difference is useful to know, so I wrote a quick guide to differentiating these U.S. holidays–and more!

  • Memorial Day: It’s a federal holiday on the last Monday in May, and it celebrates people who have died while serving in the armed forces.
  • Veterans Day: Although not a day off, this is celebrated on November 11 and celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs clarifies that the day is intended to honor any person who served, regardless of:
    • whether they are living or dead
    • whether they served in peacetime or wartime
    • whether they died while serving or not
  • Independence Day: This is a federal holiday on July 4 celebrates the United States’ split from Great Britain. Although veterans are often honored, it is not inherent to the holiday.
  • Labor Day: It’s a federal holiday on the first Monday in September. It celebrates the U.S. labor movement and was not designed to celebrate the lives of veterans.

According to Wikipedia, there are a few minor holidays as well:

  • June 14: Flag Day and Army Day (United States Army)
  • August 4: Coast Guard Day (United States Coast Guard)
  • September 17: Air Force Day (United States Air Force)
  • October 13: US Navy Birthday (United States Navy)
  • October 27: Navy Day (United States Navy)
  • November 10: Marine Corps Day (United States Marine Corps)
  • December 13: National Guard Day (National Guard of the United States)

In recent years, I’ve also seen the anniversary of historical war-related events celebrated as well, such as the anniversary of the Normandy landings on June 6, 1943. These are typically marked by smaller events.

There are no doubt a plethora of local holidays as well. For example, in a handful of U.S. municipalities, Victory Over Japan Day is still celebrated. Its stated purpose is to mark the end of the Pacific Theater in World War II, but it usually devolves into anti-Asian racist presentations. (Please don’t participate in this.)


Updated (November 11, 2018): I edited some stuff for clarity.