15 Memorial Day Activities for the Whole Family
There are lots of great ways to celebrate Memorial Day, even now when we're still trying to keep our distance from people not in our households. These 15 Memorial Day activities provide a way to celebrate without losing the true message of the day.
Every editorial product is independently selected, though we may be compensated or receive an affiliate commission if you buy something through our links.
What to do on Memorial Day
You know Memorial Day is a Monday at the end of May—the last Monday in May, to be precise—and that it’s a day off work for many Americans. As the unofficial “official start of summer,” Memorial Day weekend is a popular time for barbecues, beach trips, and blowout Memorial Day sales. But the history and meaning of the day are actually pretty solemn, especially when you consider the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day. There are plenty of Memorial Day activities that are more true to its “memorial” purpose. Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, which will likely still be a factor in the U.S. at the end of May, it can be tricky to find safe things to do, and it might not be the right time yet for these Memorial Day getaways. Luckily, these activities are great for the whole family during this bizarre time!
Attend a parade
Maybe the huge, extravagant Memorial Day parades residents of small-town (and big-city) America are used to aren’t really an option this year. But hey, COVID-19 ushered in the age of car parades, and we think that’s a great way to maintain some semblance of a pre-COVID celebration. Or if there is still an official, somewhat-in-person parade happening where you live, check it out while remaining masked and distant!
Stay home and deck out your living space with red, white, and blue decorations. Even if no one is coming over for a party to see them, hanging up the decoration is half the fun! This is an especially great Memorial Day activity for kids: If you’ve got a crafty little one, you can make your own decorations. For a traditional choice, make your own Memorial Day poppy, or buy one. Or check out these great red, white, and blue Memorial Day decorations.
Learn about the reality of military service
On this day, you should have a good idea of what it is you’re celebrating and honoring. Plenty of veterans have willingly shared their stories on platforms like StoryCorps. Their Military Voices initiative is always collecting new stories from veterans around the country, partnering with local radio stations. Take a listen to one of their featured episodes to hear powerful war-time stories directly from the people who lived them.
Have a moment of silence
It’s simple, yet powerful. Traditionally, the National Moment of Remembrance takes place on Memorial Day at 3 p.m. local time. Taking a moment is a simple way to acknowledge the sacrifices of service members on this day. And this year, when the United States and the world have lost so many people, it will be a pretty poignant moment.
Take a Washington, D.C. virtual tour
It may not be the best year to take an in-person trip to our nation’s capital to see its memorials to fallen soldiers, but you can still get a pretty good tour via the Internet. Washington.org has some great 360-degree tours, so you can pick and choose which landmarks to explore—without the crowds!
RELATED: 21 facts about Washington, D.C.
Visit a cemetery
If you have a family member who was a veteran or who lost their life fighting, consider paying a visit to the cemetery where they’re memorialized. Or just go to a nearby military cemetery, or any place where veterans are buried. You can pay tribute with flowers, flags, or Memorial Day decorations.
Support service members
Yes, technically Memorial Day and Veterans Day differ in that Veterans Day honors service members who are still living. But advocating for living veterans is a great way to honor the memory of the deceased ones. You can write thank you letters to veterans or put together care packages with Operation Gratitude. You can also sign petitions like Jon Stewart and John Feal’s to encourage Congress to aid veterans who were exposed to toxic burn pits. (This one might be a little over kids’ heads, but it’s a good way to take action.)
Make a donation
It’s been a year of financial hardship for so many, but if you’re able, contribute to one of many organizations accepting donations to help veterans transitioning back to civilian life. Take a look at this list and see which feels the most meaningful to you. For a more tangible gift, you can donate to Memorial Day Flowers, a Memorial Day–specific organization where just $5 can provide five red roses for the headstones of soldiers. They also have a Tribute Box Program that sends a box of flowers directly to your home or office—you can select the price and number of flowers.
Watch a movie
You certainly hope for beautiful weather on Memorial Day weekend, but if you’d rather stay indoors with the family and hit the screens, Memorial Day movies like The Hurt Locker and Black Hawk Down capture the theme. (You’ll probably want to wait till after the kids are in bed for these, though.)
Check out the National Memorial Day Concert
Didn’t know this concert was an annual thing? Well, you do now, and what better year to give it a watch than this one, when we’ll probably still be encouraged to stay home. The concert airs at 8 p.m. Eastern on PBS, on Sunday, May 30, 2021. Performers are yet to be announced.
Even if you’re eschewing a big-time barbecue, that doesn’t mean you can’t cook for yourself or your family. Barbecue some burgers or hot dogs, try a favorite family recipe (especially if there’s an old favorite of a family member who served), or bake a delicious red, white, and blue dessert. You might even enjoy not having to worry about cooking for a big group of people. It’s a good chance to break out the summery foods, desserts, and drinks for the first time this season.
Pick some fruit
Use your day off from work—and commemorate the “start-of-summer” aspect of Memorial Day—to start building up your summer fruit stash. Strawberries are in season in May, and blueberries are starting to be ripe as well. Thanks to the nature of fruit bushes, fruit-picking is naturally socially distant fun that may become a permanent part of your Memorial Day activities.
Go for a bike ride
If you’re into lesser-known, “just-cause” holidays, have a dual-holiday celebration with your Memorial Day activities for kids. May is National Bike Month! Especially if you haven’t broken out the old two-wheeler since last summer or fall, Memorial Day weekend is a great time to take a ride in newly mild weather. And just like fruit-picking, bike riding can be pretty socially distant.
Call a loved one
Okay, this is really a good activity for any day, especially now. But in the U.S., we’ve been in quarantine for over a year, and it’s nice to catch up with loved ones not just on “big-time” holidays like Thanksgiving and Easter. Plus, since it’s a day off work for many, it could provide a good chance to schedule a pre-arranged family or friends chat.
Have an at-home “beach day”
It’s probably still too early for a trip to a crowded beach. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have some fun in the sun! Grab a book and/or picnic, sit outside, and soak up the rays, or head out to a park for a socially distant breath of fresh air. If it’s warm enough, put on a bathing suit and break out the sprinklers! Next, read these powerful Memorial Day quotes for every American.