Memorial Day 2020

Memorial Day Facts, Traditions, Meaning, and More

May 19, 2020
Memorial Day

Memorial Day is Monday, May 25, 2020. 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 2020?

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 2020, Memorial Day will be observed on Monday, May 25. 

Year Memorial Day
2020 Monday, May 25
2021 Monday, May 31
2022 Monday, May 30

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).

Wondering what weather to expect this summer? Check out our Summer Forecast for 2020!

Summer sunflower with bee

The Best Times to Travel

According to AAA, nearly 43 million Americans are expected to hit the road this Memorial Day weekend for their first vacation of season—about 1.5 million more travelers than last year and the highest amount since 2005. 

If you’re looking to get outdoors this weekend, AAA suggests the worst time to travel is late afternoons of both Thursday and Friday (4:45-6:00 PM). Commuters and vacationers will be getting a head start on the three-day holiday weekend.

In metropolitan areas such as New York, Boston, Atlanta, and the nation’s capital, expect congestion to be two to three times greater than usual at peak times during the weekend.

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.


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Reader Comments

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I disagree. There aren’t any agency’s in MS (besides the horrid conditions at the VA (hospital only). My father in law served two terms and gets NOTHING but enough for a crappy nursing home that we have to add money to. (Gladly, but still). It’s sick and unfair. Inhumane.

When we lived in Dallas,

When we lived in Dallas, there were a lot of homeless men in the downtown area. My goal was that once a month I would go to the Burger King buy a hamburger, fries, box of milk and a dessert. I usually saw a homeless person before I walked in, and that person was the recipient. I would also tell them about the soup kitchen run by the First Methodist Church or the Presbyterian Church. These folks were usually transient. My rule - just do it, and don't let the left hand know what the right hand is doing. And remember if you do it to the least of our brothers and sisters your have done it unto God. God Bless America, and May God watch over our Veterans and pour out his grace upon all who need a kind and loving hand to help them through the day. We can do it America! Make a difference!

The homeless

I would like to say please help the homeless.Some are cons most of them are not.
It doesnt hurt to ask somebodys name and to give a buck or two for coffee something small not enough for drugs but a cup of coffee.We always do appreciate it!I say we because I include myself who was homeless for a year in 2006,but luckily could stay in a decent shelter.And the attention you give just might be the only attention they get all day.Think about it.If you were homeless how would you like to be treated?Thank you and God bless!

give to homeless vet

i just want to give you a thumbs you said some are really in need because of the way this old world has treated our heros..God bless you.

I've always been told that

I've always been told that the nation wide decoration day was initiated by General John A Logan. But then, I grew up about 20 miles from his home town, so local folks wanted to claim him.

On Memorial Day, we remember

On Memorial Day, we remember those who've served who are no longer with us, specifically, those who Gave All. We want to be sure to remember the others, because All Gave Some.

Thank all who have served all

Thank all who have served all families who have served from John Bigando

John Bigando says god bless

John Bigando says god bless all who have served and all the families of those who have served. Thank you

Thanks so much. Great

Thanks so much. Great information.

Thanks for highlighting all

Thanks for highlighting all the American holidays - always so hard to keep track of..

I Thank everyone who has ever

I Thank everyone who has ever served and still serving now, for your bravery and love for our country. God Bless you all.

Bless all of the women and

Bless all of the women and men that stood up for our freedoms!!