Memorial Day is observed on the last Monday of May. It was formerly known as Decoration Day and commemorates all men and women, who have died in military service for the United States. Many people visit cemeteries and memorials on Memorial Day and it is traditionally seen as the start of the summer season.
What do people do?
It is traditional to fly the flag of the United States at half mast from dawn until noon. Many people visit cemeteries and memorials, particularly to honor those who have died in military service. Many volunteers place an American flag on each grave in national cemeteries. Memorial Day is combined with Jefferson Davis’ Birthday in Mississippi.
Memorial Day has become less of an occasion of remembrance. Many people choose to hold picnics, sports events and family gatherings on this weekend. This day is traditionally seen as the start of the summer season for cultural events. For the fashion conscious, it is seen as acceptable to wear white clothing, particularly shoes from Memorial Day until Labor Day. However, fewer and fewer people follow this rule and many wear white clothing throughout the year.
Memorial Day is a federal holiday. All non-essential Government offices are closed, as are schools, businesses and other organizations. Most public transit systems do not run on their regular schedule. Many people see Memorial Day weekend as an opportunity to go on a short vacation or visit family or friends. This can cause some congestion on highways and at airports.
Memorial Day started as an event to honor Union soldiers, who had died during the American Civil War. It was inspired by the way people in the Southern states honored their dead. After World War I, it was extended to include all men and women, who died in any war or military action.
Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day. The current name for this day did not come into use until after World War II. Decoration Day and then Memorial Day used to be held on May 30, regardless of the day of the week, on which it fell. In 1968, the Uniform Holidays Bill was passed as part of a move to use federal holidays to create three-day weekends. This meant that that, from 1971, Memorial Day holiday has been officially observed on the last Monday in May. However, it took a longer period for all American states to recognize the new date.
Memorial Day is a federal holiday in the United States for remembering the people who died while serving in the country’s armed forces. The holiday, which is observed every year on the last Monday of May, was formerly known as Decoration Day and originated after the American Civil War to commemorate the Union and Confederate soldiers who died in the war. By the 20th century, Memorial Day had been extended to honor all Americans who died while in the military service. It typically marks the start of the summer vacation season, while Labor Day marks its end.
Many people visit cemeteries and memorials, particularly to honor those who have died in military service. Many volunteers place an American flag on each grave in national cemeteries.
Annual Decoration Days for particular cemeteries are held on a Sunday in late spring or early summer in some rural areas of the American South, notably in the mountain areas. In cases involving a family graveyard where remote ancestors as well as those who were deceased more recently are buried, this may take on the character of an extended family reunion to which some people travel hundreds of miles. People gather on the designated day and put flowers on graves and renew contacts with relatives and others. There often is a religious service and a picnic-like “dinner on the ground,” the traditional term for a potluck meal in which people used to spread the dishes out on sheets or tablecloths on the grass. It is believed that this practice began before the American Civil War and thus may reflect the real origin of the “memorial day” idea.
Memorial Day is not to be confused with Veterans Day; Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving, while Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans.
Remembrance Day (also known as Poppy Day or Armistice Day) is a memorial day observed in Commonwealth countries since the end of World War I to remember the members of their armed forces who have died in the line of duty. This day, or alternative dates, are also recognised as special days for war remembrances in many non-Commonwealth countries.
Remembrance Day is observed on 11 November to recall the end of hostilities of World War I on that date in 1918. Hostilities formally ended “at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month,” in accordance with the Armistice, signed by representatives of Germany and the Entente between 5:12 and 5:20 that morning. (“At the 11th hour” refers to the passing of the 11th hour, or 11:00 am.) World War I officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on 28 June 1919.
The Initial or Very First Armistice Day was held at Buckingham Palace commencing with King George V hosting a “Banquet in Honour of the President of the French Republic” during the evening hours of 10 November 1919. The first official Armistice Day was subsequently held on the grounds of Buckingham Palace on the morning of 11 November 1919. This would set the trend for a day of Remembrance for decades to come.
The red remembrance poppy has become a familiar emblem of Remembrance Day due to the poem “In Flanders Fields.” These poppies bloomed across some of the worst battlefields of Flanders in World War I, their brilliant red colour an appropriate symbol for the blood spilled in the war.
In Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly.
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
Colonel John McCrae was a surgeon with Canada’s First Brigade Artillery. The poem expressed McCrae’s grief over the “row on row” of graves of soldiers who had died on Flanders’ battlefields, located in a region of western Belgium and northern France. The poem presented a striking image of the bright red flowers blooming among the rows of white crosses and became a rallying cry to all who fought in the First World War. The first printed version of it reportedly was in December 1915, in the British magazine Punch.
McCrae’s poem had a huge impact on two women, Anna E. Guerin of France and Georgia native Moina Michael. Both worked hard to initiate the sale of artificial poppies to help orphans and others left destitute by the war. By 1920, when Guerin, with the help of the American Legion, established the first poppy sale in the U.S., the flower was well known in the allied countries — America, Britain, France, Canada, Australia and New Zealand — as the “Flower of Remembrance.” Proceeds from that first sale went to the American and French Children’s League.
Guerin had troubles with the distribution of the poppies in early 1922 and sought out Michael for help. Michael had started a smaller-scaled Poppy Day during a YMCA conference she was attending in New York and wanted to use the poppies as a symbol of remembrance of the war. Guerin, called the “Poppy Lady of France” in her homeland, and Michael, later dubbed “The Poppy Princess” by the Georgia legislature, went to the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) for help.
The poppy was adopted as the official memorial flower of the VFW at its national convention in Seattle, Wash., in August 1922, following the first nationwide distribution of poppies ever conducted by any veterans organization.
In 1923, faced by a shortage of poppies from French manufacturers, the VFW relied on New York florists to make up the difference. This was a huge setback, however, and led to the idea by VFW officials to use unemployed and disabled veterans to produce the artificial flower. This concept was approved in late 1923 and the first poppy factory was built in Pittsburgh, Pa., in 1924. This provided a practical means of assistance to veterans and also ensured a steady, reliable source of poppies. Veterans at Department of Veterans Affairs medical facilities and veterans homes help assemble the poppies, and each year the VFW distributes roughly 14 million worldwide.
It was around the same time the first poppy factory was built that the VFW registered the name “Buddy Poppy” with the U.S. Patent Office. The term “Buddy” was coined by the poppy makers as a tribute to their comrades who did not come home from the war or who were scarred and crippled for life.
The VFW celebrated the 75th anniversary of the Buddy Poppy as its official flower in 1997. While profits from its sales have helped countless veterans and their widows, widowers and orphans over the years, the poppy itself survives as a perpetual tribute to those who have given their lives for the nation’s freedom.Information Source: United States Department of Veterans Affairs
Veterans Day Frequently Asked Questions
Answers Provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
Q. Which is the correct spelling of Veterans Day?
a. Veterans Day
b. Veteran’s Day
c. Veterans’ Day
A. Veterans Day (choice a, above). Veterans Day does not include an apostrophe but does include an “s” at the end of “veterans” because it is not a day that “belongs” to veterans, it is a day for honoring all veterans.
Q. On what day of the week will Veterans Day be observed?
A. Veterans Day is always observed officially on November 11, regardless of the day of the week on which it falls. The Veterans Day National Ceremony, like most ceremonies around the nation, is held on Veterans Day itself. However, when Veterans Day falls on a weekday, many communities choose to hold Veterans Day parades or other celebrations on the weekend before or after November 11 so that more people can participate.
Q. Who decides if a government office or business closes or stays open on Veterans Day?
A. Federal government closings are established by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM). Generally, when a holiday falls on a non-workday—Saturday or Sunday—the federal government is closed on Monday (if the holiday falls on Sunday) or Friday (if the holiday falls on Saturday).
State and local governments, including schools, are not required to follow OPM closure policies and may determined for themselves whether to close or remain open. Likewise, non-government businesses are free to make their own decisions to close or remain open for business, regardless of federal, state or local government closings.
Q. Why do some schools close and others remain in session on Veterans Day?
A. Because there is no legal requirement that schools close on Veterans Day, individual states or school districts are free to establish their own policies on school closings. Most schools that do not close for Veterans Day schedule assemblies or other activities to honor America’s veterans on Veterans Day and throughout the week that includes Veterans Day.
Q. What is the difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day?
A. Many people confuse Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Memorial Day is a day for remembering and honoring military personnel who died in the service of their country, particularly those who died in battle or as a result of wounds sustained in battle. While those who died are also remembered, Veterans Day is the day set aside to thank and honor ALL those who served honorably in the military – in wartime or peacetime. In fact, Veterans Day is largely intended to thank LIVING veterans for their service, to acknowledge that their contributions to our national security are appreciated, and to underscore the fact that all those who served – not only those who died – have sacrificed and done their duty.
Q. Why are red poppies worn on Veterans Day, and where can I obtain them?
A. The wearing of poppies in honor of America’s war dead is traditionally done on Memorial Day, not Veterans Day. The practice of wearing of poppies takes its origin from the poem In Flanders Fields, written in 1915 by John McCrae. For information on how to obtain poppies for use on Memorial Day, contact a veterans service organization, such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States (VFW) or The American Legion, as a number of veterans organizations distribute poppies annually on Memorial Day. You can find veterans groups in the Veterans Service Organization link on VA’s Veterans Day web page. Veterans groups in your area can be found in your local phone book. Look in the yellow pages under “Veterans and Military Organizations” or a similar heading.
Q. How can I get a Veterans Day poster?
A. Each September, posters are distributed to schools, state governments, Veterans Day Regional Sites, the military services, and veterans service organizations. Poster requests are fulfilled until the inventory is exhausted. You can download or print your own poster from the Veterans Day Poster Gallery.
Q. Can I get a Veterans Day Teacher’s Guide?
A. Teacher’s Guides may be downloaded. You may make as many additional copies as you need.
Q. Is Veterans Day celebrated in other countries?
A. Yes, a number of countries honor their veterans each year on November 11, although the name and types of commemorations differ somewhat from Veterans Day celebrations in the United States. For example, Canada and Australia observe “Remembrance Day” on November 11, and Great Britain observes “Remembrance Day” on the Sunday nearest to November 11. There are similarities and differences between these countries’ Remembrance Day and America’s Veterans Day. Canada’s observance is actually quite similar to the U.S. celebration, in that the day is intended to honor all who served in Canada’s Armed Forces. However, unlike in the U.S., many Canadians wear red poppy flowers on November 11 in honor of their war dead. In Australia, Remembrance Day is very much like America’s Memorial Day, a day to honor that nation’s war dead.
In Great Britain, the day is commemorated by church services and parades of ex-service members in Whitehall, a wide ceremonial avenue leading from London’s Parliament Square to Trafalgar Square. Wreaths of poppies are left at the Cenotaph, a war memorial in Whitehall, which was built after the First World War. At the Cenotaph and elsewhere in the country, a two-minute silence is observed at 11 a.m., to honor those who lost their lives in wars.