Veterans' Day

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Veterans' Day,

holiday formerly observed in the United States as Armistice Day in commemoration of the signing of the Armistice ending World War I. Nov. 11 officially became Veterans' Day on May 24, 1954, by act of Congress. The day is set aside in honor of all those who have fought in defense of the United States.
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Veterans' Day (Remembrance Day, Armistice Day)

Type of Holiday: Historic, National
Date of Observation: November 11
Where Celebrated: Canada, England, France, United States
Symbols and Customs: Poppy, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier


The armistice that ended the fighting in World War I was signed in Marshal Ferdinand Foch's railroad car in the Forest of Compiègne, France, on November 11, 1918. There were huge public celebrations in Paris, London, and New York City, where more than a million Americans jammed Broadway, danced in the streets, and hurled ticker tape out their windows.

During the 1920s, the annual observance of the armistice became a tradition on both sides of the Atlantic. It was known as Remembrance Day in England and Canada and Armistice Day in the United States, or sometimes Victory Day. The United States started honoring its war dead in 1921 (see TOMB OF THE UNKNOWN SOL DIER ), but November 11 didn't become a legal national holiday until 1938.

National holidays can be defined as those commemorations that a nation's government has deemed important enough to warrant inclusion in the list of official public holidays. They tend to honor a person or event that has been critical in the development of the nation and its identity. Such people and events usually reflect values and traditions shared by a large portion of the citizenry.

In the United States, patiotism and identity were nurtured from the beginning of the nation by the very act of celebrating new events in holidays like the Fourth of July, battle anniversaries, and other notable occasions. The invention of traditions and the marking of important occasions in the life of the new nation were crucial in creating a shared bond of tradition and a sense of common belonging to a relatively new homeland through the shared experience of celebrating common holidays. As more and diverse peoples migrated to the United States, it became even more important to celebrate significant annual anniversaries, and Veterans' Day became one of the nation's most important shared celebrations. Veterans' Day

One of the reasons the armistice was such a cause for celebration is that people believed that the death and destruction of World War I would never be repeated. But the advent of World War II changed all that, and for many years afterward, celebrations of the 1918 ceasefire received little attention. Veterans' groups urged that November 11 be set aside to pay tribute to all those who had served in the armed forces-in other words, those who had fought in World War II and the Korean War as well. In 1954 President Dwight Eisenhower signed a bill specifying that Armistice Day would thereafter be commemorated as Veterans' Day.

Veterans' Day observances take place all over the United States, particularly in places associated with the American war effort-for example, the USS North Car- olina Battleship Memorial, a restored World War II ship docked in Wilmington, North Carolina. The celebrations usually include parades, speeches, military balls, and religious services. In many places, the eleventh day of the eleventh month is celebrated by observing a two-minute silence at 11:00 in the morning, the hour at which the hostilities ceased.



The poppy is a small red flower that grows wild in the fields of Europe where many of those who died in the First World War are buried. It was popularized by the famous war poem written by John McCrae, whose best-known lines are, "In Flanders fields the poppies blow/ Between the crosses, row on row." Flanders was the site of heavy fighting during the war, and for many the poppy came to symbolize both the beauty of the landscape and the blood that was shed there.

Artificial paper poppies are sold by veterans' organizations in most countries on November 11. Poppies are also used to decorate the graves of those who died fighting in World War I.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

The United States didn't really start honoring its war dead on November 11 until 1921, when the remains of an unidentified American soldier who had died fighting in France were disinterred and transported back to the United States. The remains of the "unknown soldier," as he came to be called, lay in state in the rotunda of the Capitol in Washington DC for three days before being moved to their final resting place at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

The principal observation of Veterans' Day in the United States still takes place at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which symbolizes the nation's desire to honor its war dead. Throughout the year, sentries maintain a constant vigil at the grave site. Since 1960, a flaming torch that was lighted in Antwerp, Belgium, and then brought to the United States has burned there to honor all those who have died while serving their country. Taps are sounded at the tomb on November 11 at exactly 11:00 a.m., and the President or his representative places a wreath on the shrine. Afterward, representatives of the armed forces and several thousand spectators listen to an address by a prominent public figure in the amphitheater behind the tomb.


Christianson, Stephen G., and Jane M. Hatch. The American Book of Days. 4th ed. New York: H.W. Wilson, 2000. Dunkling, Leslie. A Dictionary of Days. New York: Facts on File, 1988. Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. Spicer, Dorothy Gladys. The Book of Festivals. 1937. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1990. Van Straalen, Alice. The Book of Holidays Around the World. New York: Dutton, 1986.


U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Veterans Affairs Canada Veterans' Day
Holiday Symbols and Customs, 4th ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2009
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