Veterans Day was first celebrated in 1919, when it was known as Armistice Day. In 1954, the holiday was changed to "Veterans Day" so that observations of this holiday would commemorate all American veterans. It is traditionally celebrated on 11 November and is a federal holiday, meaning that banks and government buildings are closed. Like Memorial Day, Veterans Day is intended to be a somber holiday in which people reflect on the men and women of the armed services.
Armistice Day continues to be celebrated in many nations today. It commemorates the official armistice which preceded the formal end of the First World War. By general agreement, the countries involved in the First World War put down their weapons at 11:00 AM on 11 November 1918. A formal treaty to end the war was not signed until almost seven months later, but many people viewed 11 November as the end of the "war to end all wars," as the First World War was called. In November 1919, President Wilson established Armistice Day as a holiday in the United States, calling for Americans to hold events around the country to celebrate the end of the war.
The change to Veterans Day occurred during the Eisenhower administration. Eisenhower's official proclamation in 1954 cited involvement in the Second World War and Korean War for the name change. Eisenhower's proclamation expanded the holiday to include all veterans of the armed services, and it called for a national observance of the holiday; he also asked Americans to apply themselves to "the task of promoting an enduring peace so that their [the veterans] efforts shall not have been in vain."
Veterans Day is traditionally celebrated with parades which include current and past service members. Older veterans typically ride in cars, and many bring out their old uniforms. Many people also visit military cemeteries on Veterans Day to leave flowers and other tokens, and political speeches are held across America. For younger Americans, Veterans Day provides an opportunity to meet older veterans and talk with them about their experiences; veterans are pieces of living history who can talk about important historical events with authority because they were present.
In other nations, 11 November is often celebrated as Remembrance Day. Traditionally, people purchase artificial red poppies from veterans to support veterans affairs and to commemorate the holiday. The symbolic meaning of the poppy relates to the First World War, when red poppies bloomed on some of the most bloody and terrible battlefields of the war; the poppies were an important symbolic element in a famous poem from the war, In Flanders Fields. The poppy tradition lives on in parts of the United States; many veterans can be seen selling poppies in the days leading to Veterans Day.