Memorial Day 2021

Memorial Day Facts, Traditions, Meaning, and More

May 27, 2021
Memorial Day

Memorial Day is Monday, May 31! Learn all about Memorial Day, including the true meaning of this day, how it differs from Veterans Day, and why the red poppy is a traditional symbol—with unexpected origins. 

When Is Memorial Day 2021?

This U.S. federal holiday is observed on the last Monday of May to honor the men and women who have died while serving in the military.

In 2021, Memorial Day will be observed on Monday, May 31. 

Memorial Day Dates

Year Memorial Day
2021 Monday, May 31
2022 Monday, May 30
2023 Monday, May 29
2024 Monday, May 27

What’s the Difference Between Memorial Day and Veterans Day?

On both Memorial Day and Veterans Day, it’s customary to spend time remembering and honoring the countless veterans who have served the United States throughout the country’s history. However, there is a distinction between the two holidays:

  • Memorial Day commemorates the men and women who died while in the military service of their country, particularly those who died in battle or as a result of wounds sustained in battle. In other words, the purpose of Memorial Day is to memorialize the veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.  We spend time remembering those who lost their lives and could not come home, reflecting on their service and why we have the luxury and freedom that we enjoy today. We might consider how we can support and safeguard their grieving families and loved ones who are left behind.
  • Veterans Day is the day set aside to thank and honor ALL who served—in wartime or peacetime—regardless of whether they died or survived. Veterans Day is always observed officially on November 11, regardless of the day of the week on which it falls. Read more about Veterans Day.

Remember: Raise the flag with honor and respect! See guidelines for flying the American Flag.

American Flags

Memorial Day Facts and History

Traditionally, on Memorial Day (U.S.), people visit cemeteries and memorials, and volunteers often place American flags on each grave site at national cemeteries.  A national moment of remembrance takes place at 3:00 p.m. local time.

The custom of honoring ancestors by cleaning cemeteries and decorating graves is an ancient and worldwide tradition, but the specific origin of Memorial Day—or Decoration Day, as it was first known—is unclear.

In early rural America, this duty was usually performed in late summer and was an occasion for family reunions and picnics. After the Civil War, America’s need for a secular, patriotic ceremony to honor its military dead became prominent, as monuments to fallen soldiers were erected and dedicated, and ceremonies centering on the decoration of soldiers’ graves were held in towns and cities throughout the nation.

After World War I, the day expanded to honor those who have died in all American wars.

A Lasting Legacy

No less than 25 places have been named in connection with the origin of Memorial Day, and states observed the holiday on different dates. In 1971, Memorial Day became a national holiday by an act of Congress; it is now celebrated annually on the last Monday in May.

Since it all started with the Civil War, you might want to brush up on your knowledge of this event by visiting the Library of Congress Civil War collection, which includes more than a thousand photographs from the time.

Red poppies

Why Is The Poppy A Symbol of Memorial Day?

In the war-torn battlefields of Europe, the common red field poppy (Papaver rhoeas) was one of the first plants to reappear. Its seeds scattered in the wind and sat dormant in the ground, only germinating when the ground was disturbed—as it was by the very brutal fighting of World War 1.

John McCrae, a Canadian soldier and physician, witnessed the war first hand and was inspired to write the now-famous poem “In Flanders Fields” in 1915. (See below for the poem.) He saw the poppies scattered throughout the battlefield surrounding his artillery position in Belgium.

The Poppy Lady

In November 1918, days before the official end of the war, an American professor named Moina Michael wrote her own poem, “We Shall Keep the Faith,” which was inspired by McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields.” In her poem (also shown below), she mentioned wearing the “poppy red” to honor the dead, and with that, the tradition of adorning one’s clothing with a single red poppy in remembrance of those killed in the Great War was born. Moina herself came to be known—and honored—as “The Poppy Lady.”

The Symbol Spreads Abroad

The wearing of the poppy was traditionally done on Memorial Day in the United States, but the symbolism has evolved to encompass all veterans living and deceased, so poppies may be worn on Veterans Day as well. Not long after the custom began, it was adopted by other Allied nations, including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, where it is still popular today. In these countries, the poppy is worn on Remembrance Day (November 11).

Today, poppies are not only a symbol of loss of life, but also of recovery and new life, especially in support of the servicemen who survived the war but suffered from physical and psychological injuries long after it ended. 

Read the text of both poems below, and learn more about the inspiration for the poppy here.

“In Flanders Fields”

by John McCrae, May 1915

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.

“We Shall Keep the Faith”

by Moina Michael, November 1918

Oh! you who sleep in Flanders Fields,
Sleep sweet – to rise anew!
We caught the torch you threw
And holding high, we keep the Faith
With All who died.

We cherish, too, the poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led;
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies,
But lends a lustre to the red
Of the flower that blooms above the dead
In Flanders Fields.

And now the Torch and Poppy Red
We wear in honor of our dead.
Fear not that ye have died for naught;
We’ll teach the lesson that ye wrought
In Flanders Fields.

Memorial Day Weekend: The Unofficial Start of Summer

Memorial Day tends to mark the unofficial start of summer for many Americans (though the season really begins with the Summer Solstice in June).

Summer sunflower with bee

A Return to Travel

According to AAA, nearly 37 million Americans are expected to take a trip this Memorial Day weekend for the first time in a while. That’s about 60% more than last Memorial Day weekend, but still 6 million people shy of pre-pandemic levels. 

If you’re looking to get outdoors, AAA suggests the worst time to travel is afternoons on both Thursday and Friday. Commuters and vacationers will be getting a head start on the three-day holiday weekend.

In metropolitan areas such as New York, Houston, and Atlanta, expect delays to be three to five times worse than usual at peak times during the weekend. Watch out for the higher gas prices in popular destinations, too.

Overall, the best time to travel will be just after the morning commute or after the evening commute, when most people will either be at work or already settled at their destination. So, plan accordingly!

Super Summer Burger. Photo by Becky Luigart-Stayner.
Super Summer Burger. Photo by Becky Luigart-Stayner.

Memorial Day Recipes

On Memorial Day weekend, we also enjoy the extra time spent with family and friends, sharing a meal. 

If you’re planning a backyard barbecue or a picnic, here are some of our favorite meals to feed a crowd:

Find more recipes on our Picnic Food Recipes and Easy Grilling Recipes pages.

Thank You to the Fallen.

From everyone here at The Old Farmer’s Almanac, we would like say thank you to those men and women who paid the ultimate price. We will always remember the sacrifices of our nation’s heroes. We are deeply grateful. 

In remembering the fallen, we also honor their loved ones: spouses, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, friends. There really aren’t proper words, but we do live in gratitude each and every day for the precious gift that they have given to us.

How do you honor the memory of veterans on Memorial Day? Tell us your traditions in the comments below.


The Old Farmer's Almanac



Reader Comments

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Forgotten Explorer Scouts that were to serve this Country.

I belong to the forgotten group of Explorer Scouts who were to be in the Veatnam war and serve America where needed ,My Family goes back to 1640 in Stokes And the Nelson side are kin to Thomas Nelson Jr. threw blood line also the WM. Blunt is kin to me he was a sighner of Constation & Bill of Rights.I,m the last LAngley ,Stokes,Nelson ,Jolly ,Hart and Quick family menber ,. I shall ask that all people rember the founding Fathers Families and their gift of Freedome,Liberty, &Life with the Rights to worship at any place fit for mankind because the Army that was to fight for you has had to prat in the fields of blood for all .

Your article on Memorial Day

Wonderful well written article! Thank you.

Memorial Day

Thanks to the service men and women.

Memorial Day

I was born in 1940 and have vivid childhood memories of Memorial Day. Peonies in our yard were always blooming at that time of year and my mother would cut them and then my whole family would visit graves and leave flowers on them. Some of these graves were military, but most of them were close family members who had passed on. Then, there was a huge military parade -- bands, majorettes and the most inspiring music! These are some of my favorite memories. Fast-forward to today -- my husband recently passed away and I wanted to put some flowers on his grave for Memorial Day. My grown children were dumbfounded and told me we are only to put flowers on deceased veterans' graves. I know for a fact that in years past some of my acquaintances here (Calvert County, MD) were going to visit family graves (taking flowers) on Memorial Day and they were not veterans' graves. FYI - I grew up in Allegany County, MD. Feel like I am caught in a time-warp!

emorial Day

Last few years I visited Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery and paid my respects to the brave fallen ones and prayed for their families. I also remember my older brother who served in the US Navy and sponsored me to come live in America. I live 8 hours drive from there and being that we are still under lock-down in many cities I will be home reflecting on each service member who gave his/her life serving our country so we can live free!

Memorial Day 2020

I wake up on Memorial Day morning and remember my visit to the Arizona Memorial in pictures revisited of a vacation In Hawaii with my Parents and my Husband on a trip to Oahu in 1998. I have my coffee and put out our American Flag for the neighborhood to see. Half Staff until Noon. I'll post a song by Frank Marino and Mahogny Rush entitled "Stories of a Hero" on my Face Book page. My Husband and I will watch some documentaries and movies on Wars past. I will play "Taps" at sunset. A personal day of remembrance and reflection.

Add a share button for social media

Add a share button for social media please!

Memorial Day

The Editors's picture

Under the big picture at the top, above the article text, you should see several social media buttons (as well as a print icon). Hope this helps.

The true meaning of Memorial Day

I am so glad to see this information available on the internet. Many of the youth of our nation are not made aware of the meaning of Memorial Day and Veteran's Day. Many people celebrate it because they get a day off from work or school. The sacrifices made by others to allow Americans to live in a wonderful country where freedom and personal rights are protected is the true reason for celebration. It's a lovely sight to see the flags flying in graveyards and in towns across America.

Memorial Day Rememberance

I walk the local Veterans Graveyard to pay my Respect to those who served before me and to hon ou r my father and many others that served our great Nation.

Memorial Day Tradition

Our tradition is to clean up graves and leave flowers, attend a Memorial service, later we read the Declaration of Independence or Bill of Rights or the military oaths, and watch a war or history documentary. We each give thanks using specific examples of freedom and liberty we cherish or take for granted (and shouldn’t). Many lives were sacrificed in order for us to have our way of living. For us the day is set aside to be a Memorial-to honor and be thankful to all who served.

Memorial Day to my family

Ever sense I was young Memorial Day weekend was about going to the cemeteries and putting flowers by the stones for my family. We would pack up in the car travel four hours to my grandparents in Maine and stay the weekend. During our stay we would go to the local cemeteries to place flowers on family I never knew and never met in my early life. We would continue on to travel downeast to my fathers side of the family to place more flowers on family I would never meet in life. As a kid you go never thinking about it other than the wanting to be someplace else, but it did instill a sense of family history in me that continues to today. I still make the trek and still place the flowers, but now I know some of those relatives that are buried there. This gives me the sense of duty to remember them whether they have served in the armed forces or not to keep there memory going of who my family is and was for times to come. I hope all can take some time this weekend to visit and place a flower, say thanks or say prayer to all that have served your family and the country.


I too grew up placing flowers on graves of ancestors, but my mom cleaned the graves regularly and we placed flowers on all holidays. I still do, and will continue to do so until I can no longer drive down. For me, as a kid, it was always serious business, and mom taught us to not walk on graves, etc. I've tried to instill this in my own kids, and hope they are able to continue this tradition of connecting and honoring family history.


I came across this looking for something else. I'm so glad I saw this. I am a veteran and I'm aware that it takes death in order for us to have our freedom. I thank all the veterans that have bought and given their lives for us. I will make sure that all my children know what it means to have our freedom. God Bless America

Request of help!!!!

Hi. I would know on which day was Memorial Day in the State of New York in the year 1968. This piece of information remains ambiguous after the lecture of this dedicated site. In a german book, Thursday, 30th Mai is signed (in a sort of diary held by the protagonist Gesine Cresspahl) as Memorial Day; now is of the utmost importance to me, to know if the Autor (Uwe Johnson; the book: Anniversaries or, in the original unabridged version: Jahrestage) has misplaced or displaced the date of this Celebration.
Can anybody help me on this subject? Many thanks in advance.

Memorial Day history

The Editors's picture

You may wish to contact the Waterloo, NY, village office. Waterloo was the birthplace of Memorial Day. See here:

Decoration Day was started

Decoration Day was started officially with General John A. Logan's general orders #11 to the members of the Grand Army of the Republic, Union Veterans of the Civil War.

Memorial Day

The origin of Memorial Day actually began by slaves who had been freed after the civil war. A mass grave of union soldiers was found. The freed slaves dug them up and gave each on a proper burial and celebrated them for fighting for their freedom with dancing and singing for all to see.

Slaves and Memorial Day

I would love more information about these thoughts. This is the first I’ve ever heard of it. I’m live in and am from Mississippi. I would love to know more.

My How Our History Just Gets More and More Diverse

In the event that the slaves did a gracious thing in burying the Union dead who were not buried properly, that is wonderful. But it's getting a bit weird that as we continue to discredit the founders of this country (i.e. dead white European males) , we find that women and minorities were being documented every day doing so many things. History is history. I appreciate things being discovered but there is an odd proliferation of "new history" while historical realities are forgotten or viewed with disdain. It's a sad thing when a nation has to erase, re-word , eliminate, raise new heroes in order to placate identity politics. When I grew up, I learned about all sorts of good people, of all backgrounds. Quotas were not required.


I agree. As a 60+ year old woman who had children late in life, one still in high school, I think it is not only sad but disgraceful that history is being rewritten, leaving out all the true leaders who built this country. I've even heard about the desire to deface Mt. Rushmore because Jackson had slaves. Folks need to wake up to the fact that slavery wasn't a white American institution. It was world wide, and the folks who initiated the selling of those slaves were from Africa, yep, neighboring tribes. That being said, there were heroes of wars throughout history who aren't PC these days, and unfortunately my children have received a very distorted presentation of "heroes" in their history, while the true heroes are being deleted. My uncle died in WWII, my dad and uncles fought in WWII and did not want to talk about the war, however, my daddy talked of his and other soldiers giving their measly k-ration to starving kids in the war zone. These are HEROES. God bless all of them!

American history lesson

Jackson is not on Mt. Rushmore - you might be thinking of Jefferson. And yes, slavery was indeed a white American institution. And no, the neighboring African tribes did not initiate the selling of their people. White slavers kidnapped them.

I believe memorial day is an

I believe memorial day is an important occasion and that's why I have created a blog on it just to create more awareness.

I always assumed Memorial Day

I always assumed Memorial Day was at the end of May. Now I read that Congress set the date as the last Monday in May. Oh well, Congress does what it wants- always has, always will. Next thing you know, they'll change 4th of July.

Hi what good would it be if

Hi what good would it be if you just pick any day at the end of the Month most would agree the Last Monday would be the best Time this way Every Friday Saturday Sunday you can enjoy the Weekend together and the Celebrate it on that Monday and as you said you always assumed it was at the end of the Month as an American if you are one you should always know the Day that is for the lost hero's and if you have served as i Salute those lost , Still fighting i will include you . Johnny

July 4

I personally wish July 4 would change it's DAY- like this year it's on Wednesday- right in the middle of the week- some people will only get that one day off- as if it was on a Friday or a Monday- it would give people more time to enjoy it- The same goes for Christmas. J/S.

Fourth of Luly

Reaaly Linda?! Sorry our country's birthdate date falling WHENEVER it happens to bothers you. Get over it. That is definitely one holiday that should NEVER be moved. Except to July 2nd when the document was actually signed. Just like we should be celebrating June 21 and not September 17 ( the day it was merely adopted) as Constitution Day because that is the day it was ratified and became law. It should also be a national holiday/

Fourth of July

Well stated Mr Nolan. Linda, please consider that these events are not meant just to be your wing-ding party weekend. Maybe you could also consider when your family gets together to celebrate your mothers birthday; I'll bet that date doesn't ALWAYS fall on a Monday or Friday. I'm an Air Force veteran and a member of my Post's "Honor Guard/Drill Team". With my flag in hand I stand fast to these commemorations, not so much their dates; although these dates & their origins are still a big deal.



Panhandlers should NEVER be

Panhandlers should NEVER be given money. There are countless agencies that care for homeless vets. Most of these panhandlers are con men who may make more than you and me. Others are drug addicts and alcoholics who use the money for drugs and alcohol. Panhandlers on roadways cause accidents and shouldn't be encouraged.