Many of us look forward to Memorial Day because it offers a much-needed extra day off from the usual working grind. It’s also an opportunity to fire up the grill and enjoy extra time with family and friends. However, sometimes people are concerned that enjoying a day off in this way trivializes the occasion.
After all, Memorial Day is about remembering the sacrifices of those who gave their lives in military service – and the sacrifices of those they left behind. But spending the day with people you love, appreciating the opportunities and freedom you have to do so, can be a fitting tribute, especially if you actively incorporate remembrance into your day.
Following are some suggestions we came up with to help make your Memorial Day meaningful and memorable:
Observe the National Moment of Remembrance at 3:00 p.m. (your local time)
The National Moment of Remembrance Act, which was passed in 2000 to emphasize the meaning of Memorial Day, encourages all Americans to “voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to ‘Taps.'”
Decorate graves of the fallen
Did you know that Memorial Day was initially called Decoration Day? Some organizations, like The Memorial Day Foundation, offer the option to donate funds for decorating if you can’t do so personally.
Thank a veteran
Chances are, someone in your life is or has been in military service. A personal acknowledgment would likely mean a lot to them.
Visit a historical site or memorial site
Such sites offer a good opportunity to educate your children (or yourself) on the causes of the conflict and the impact to the people involved. You could even visit one of the numerous locations that claim to have created Memorial Day.
Read a story or poem on the topic
One powerful poem is “Facing It” by Yusef Komunyakaa (about visiting the National Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.). An interesting one for the Civil War is “The Blue and the Gray” by Francis Miles Finch (circa 1900).
Donate to causes supporting veterans or their families
One option is to research your local charities so your funds can directly help those in your community. Donating to larger organizations is an excellent option, too, though, since larger organizations may be able to help more through their greater access to resources. Whatever organization you choose, verify that the funds are really getting to those in need. Charity Navigator has a helpful list of military-related charities ranked by fiscal efficiency.
Make it personal
Whatever you choose to do for Memorial Day, the key is to make the statistics personal. When you consider those who have fallen, consider their sacrifice in human terms. The person who fell in the Civil War or more recently in the Middle East is someone’s brother or sister, child or parent. Every life given was precious.
The freedom and leisure time most U.S. citizens enjoy today are directly related to these sacrifices military service members and their families have made. What should we do with this freedom and leisure time? Why not fire up the grill, hug our family and friends, and remember and honor those who gave all?
Do you have a favorite tradition for remembering the fallen on Memorial Day?