Its original name: Decoration Day. Initially, it honored only those soldiers who’d died during the Civil War. In 1868, a veteran of the Union Army, Gen. John A. Logan, decided to formalize a growing tradition of towns decorating veterans’ graves with flowers by organizing a nationwide day of remembrance on May 30 (Logan also served in Congress from Illinois and in 1884, unsuccessfully ran for vice president on the Republican ticket). During World War I, the holiday’s focus expanded to honoring those lost during all U.S. wars.
When it became official: In 1968, Congress officially established Memorial Day (as it had gradually come to be known) as a federal holiday that always takes place on the last Monday in May.
Its unofficial designation: Memorial Day is still a solemn day of remembrance everywhere from Arlington National Cemetery to metro Atlanta, where ceremonies and events will take place on Monday. On a lighter note, though, many people view the arrival of the three-day weekend each year as the start of summer (In fact, this year, the summer solstice arrives at 5:13 a.m. EDT on June 21).
One more thing to know: In 2000, Congress established the National Moment of Remembrance. It asks all Americans to pause at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day each year to remember the dead.
When it is: Nov. 11 every year.
Its original name: Armistice Day. The “armistice,” or agreement signed between the Allies and Germany that ended World War I, called for the cessation of all hostilities to take effect at 11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. One year later, on Nov. 11, 1919, the first Armistice Day was celebrated in the U.S.
When it became official: In 1938, a congressional act established Armistice Day as an annual legal holiday. In 1945, World War II veteran Raymond Weeks first proposed the idea of expanding the holiday to one honoring veterans of all U.S. wars. In 1954, the holiday legally became known as Veterans Day (In 1982, President Ronald Reagan presented Alabama resident Weeks with the Presidential Citizenship Medal in recognition of his efforts in creating Veterans Day).
Its temporary relocation: In 1968, the same congressional act that established Memorial Day moved Veterans Day to the fourth Monday in October every year. That law took effect in 1971; just four years later, in 1975, President Gerald Ford — citing the original date’s “historic and patriotic significance” — signed a bill redesignating Nov. 11 as Veterans Day every year.
One more thing to know: Despite much confusion over the spelling, it’s Veterans Day, plural, and without any apostrophes. That’s according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which explains on its website: “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.”