Math may be at the top of the list when it comes to the most difficult school subjects for kids to grasp, but history is a close second. And when it comes to U.S. history, well, let's just say it's complicated. No wonder kids (and adults) get confused when distinguishing between holidays that commemorate the events and people who have contributed so much to our history. With a national holiday just days away, now's a good time for a quick refresher in case you want to be prepared to explain the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day to your kiddos!
Memorial Day, which falls on May 30 this year, and Veterans Day both serve as opportunities to honor those who’ve served in the U.S. Armed Forces, a collective of the six military branches (Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, Navy, and Space Force). But Memorial Day is specifically an observance of fallen soldiers, as the name implies.
Here's a quick and easy overview of what makes each of these holidays special.
Memorial Day was first observed on May 30, 1868, after being proclaimed by General John. A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic as a day to commemorate the sacrifices made by Civil War soldiers — particularly those who died in service. His announcement came approximately three years after the end of the Civil War, and this first observation was held at the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia— our country's largest military cemetery, located just outside of Washington, D.C. Though, family, friends, and fellows had already been paying their respect to fallen soldiers in various locations, especially in battle sites and in the birthplaces and hometowns of the soldiers themselves. In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday to be celebrated subsequently on the last Monday of May.
Veterans Day, which falls on Nov. 11, is also a day to recognize fallen soldiers. The major difference, though, is that it honors all men and women who have served in the military — past, and present. It was first observed on Nov. 11, 1919, as Armistice Day. The word armistice comes from the Latin word sistere, meaning "to cause to stop" or "come to a stand." The name and day were chosen in reference to the end of World War I, which ended on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month just one year prior. In 1926, Congress called for its annual observance, and by 1954, President Eisenhower officially changed the name to Veterans Day.
Modern-day observances of Memorial Day and Veterans Day are often celebrated nationwide through events featuring live music, fireworks, marching bands, and military air shows, but also on smaller scales, including community block parties, family get-togethers, and backyard barbecues.
Of course, corporate America doesn't miss a beat, offering blowout sales on everything from mattresses to tech gear, making shopping another major event around the holiday.
And nobody is judging if you're planning to jump on the best sales this Memorial Day! But If you choose to go beyond giving your kids a history lesson by celebrating in your own unique way or are looking for activities that remind everyone what Memorial Day is really about, here are a few ideas:
- Volunteer at a non-profit organization in your community that supports military personnel and families.
- Spend the day at a local military event.
- Take a virtual tour of our nation's capital.
- Plan a block party with your neighborhood, or a family barbecue.
- Find a way to connect with or include a veteran or their family in your celebrations.
- Wear or craft a red poppy (a sign of remembrance) on National Poppy Day (the Friday before Memorial Day).
- Make a care package for soldiers on active duty or their families.
- Create some patriotic chalk art to show veterans in your community you care and inspire your community to celebrate.
- Visit and decorate a veteran’s grave with flowers and gifts. There are more than 100 national ceremonies where veterans and soldiers are buried. Spend the day adorning some of the emptier graves with flowers, American flags, and wreaths. You can also use the time to teach your kids about past wars, as there will be graves of soldiers from older battles as well.
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