The United States has many holidays, each of which hold a special place and meaning across the nation. This is certainly the case for Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and the Armed Forces Day. But for those unfamiliar with United States’ holidays, understanding the differences between these three days of remembrance can be difficult; especially considering that all three federal holidays celebrate United States military personnel in some way. This article aims to help explain the differences between each of these three days, to help you understand exactly what is being celebrated or remembered during each.
Understanding Federal Holidays in the United States
Federal holidays, or holidays officially recognized by the United States government, have special significance and protocols that are followed across the nation. There are currently eleven federal holidays in the United States, including Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Armed Forces Day, however, is not officially recognized as a federal holiday.
On federal holidays in the United States, many workers and students are excused from work and school in order to celebrate the day. As such, these days are often some of the most widely-observed holidays in the nation. All non-essential federal government offices are closed for the day; and on days that are for remembrance or mourning, it is common for the government to order all flags across the country to be flown at half mast as a symbol of this mourning.
Memorial Day was first honored in 1868 in the United States as a day of remembrance and mourning for United States military personnel who have died while serving in the Armed Forces. It is a federal holiday celebrated on the last Monday in the month of May every year; and as such it is observed across the nation.
Of the three holidays – Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Armed Forces Day – Memorial Day is the most somber. It is a day to mourn those who have given their lives in service to the country. Families who have lost loved ones often visit the individual’s grave, commonly laying wreaths or flowers in remembrance. Religious services in memory of those who have died are also popular, as are the giving of speeches and the displaying of United States’ flags or flags representing the five military branches.
On the national level, ceremonies are held across the country to honor those who have given their lives in service to the country. The most well known of these ceremonies is the tradition of laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider in Arlington National Ceremony – a monument intended to honor all those veterans who died but whose remains were never identified or returned to their families.
Veterans Day is another holiday intended to celebrate United States military personnel, except it focuses on those who have formerly served in the armed forces – both living and dead. This holiday is celebrated every year in the United States on November 11th and is intended to recognize former military personnel from all five of the branches of the U.S. military – the U.S. Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard.
The United States’ government first established Veterans Day as a holiday in 1926, and the date was chosen to fall on the same day as similar celebrations around the world – including Armistice Day, celebrated in much of Europe, Australia, and New Zealand; and Remembrance Day celebrated by the Commonwealth of Nations. November 11th was chosen for these three holidays as it marks the anniversary of end of World War I in 1918, which was said to have ended in the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month.
On Veterans Day, like Memorial Day, remembrance ceremonies are held at military monuments and cemeteries across the country to honor veterans of all wars who have died in service of the country. Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia hosts an annual memorial service every Veterans Day to honor the more than 400,000 people buried in the cemetery, most of whom served in the military. Religious services, speeches, and the displaying of flags are also common on Veterans Day.
Unlike Memorial Day, Veterans Day is somewhat more celebratory in nature as it remembers both living and dead veterans of the U.S. military. For that reason, Veterans Day also commonly sees parades, musical concerts, and other celebrations held in honor of those who have served. Restaurants and other businesses across the country often give away free products or services on this day to military veterans in thanks for their service to the country.
Armed Forces Day
Like Memorial Day, Armed Forces Day is also celebrated in the month of May, on the third Saturday of the month every year. However unlike the other two holidays, Armed Forces Day is not officially recognized as a federal holiday. As such, it is not as widely celebrated, nor does the government close down in honor of the day.
Celebrations for Armed Forces Day first began in 1950, intended to honor the military personnel currently serving in the United States’ five military branches. Since its beginnings, Armed Forces Day in the United States is commonly celebrated with outdoor events, including parades, festivals, picnics, and family gatherings. In fact, the very first Armed Forces Day was celebrated in Washington, D.C. with the marching of 10,000 troops past the president; as well as many of the celebrations still observed today.
Armed Forces Day is not a somber event like Memorial Day and Veterans Day can often be. Instead, it is a day to celebrate and show support for the men and women currently serving in the U.S. military. It is also commonly a day of education, where military branches put on displays for the public and offer educational opportunities to teach the public about each of the branches.
Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and the Armed Forces Day all celebrate United States military personnel, and often include very similar celebrations for each holiday. The main difference between the three relates to who is being celebrated on the day. Memorial Day celebrates military personnel who have died while serving in the armed forces; Veterans day celebrates former members of the armed forces; while Armed Forces day celebrates the current members of the five U.S. military branches.
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