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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.

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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!

U.S.-WASHINGTON D.C.-MEMORIAL DAY PARADEXinhua News Agency/Getty Images

Attend a parade

The huge, extravagant Memorial Day parades of small-town (and big-city) America certainly weren’t an option last year. But this year, with more and more Americans getting vaccinated and CDC guidelines changing, it might be safe to attend an official, somewhat-in-person parade where you live. Or if you’d rather, 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.

RELATED: What is Memorial Day and why do we celebrate it?

Patriotic American flags hanging decorations on white picket fence in Aspen, Colorado near Independence Day July 4th celebrationkrblokhin/Getty Images

Decorate

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 them up to create an impressive display 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 shop for these great red, white, and blue Memorial Day decorations.

RELATED: Memorial Day poppies: Why the poppy is a symbol of Memorial Day

Sailors lining-up on the USS Carl VinsonJake Warga/Getty Images

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.

RELATED: Memorial Day facts you didn’t learn in school

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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.

The United States Supreme CourtMike Kline (notkalvin)/Getty Images

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.

Flags grave markers Los Angeles memorial cemeteryEmmett Loverde/Getty Images

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.

Child writes thank you on paperHakase_/Getty Images

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.)

RELATED: Simple but powerful ways you can support veterans

Blonde woman using smartphone and using bank card at homeWestend61/Getty Images

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.

Loving parents sitting on sofa with daughter smiling10'000 Hours/Getty Images

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.)

2019 National Memorial Day ConcertPaul Morigi/Getty Images

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.

Family Celebrating 4th of Julyvgajic/Getty Images

Cook

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.

Summer Strawberry PickingMichele Quattrin; mQn Photography/Getty Images

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.

Siblings, a boy and girl cycling on a beach.Mint Images/Getty Images

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.

Portrait of mature woman using smartphone at home10'000 Hours/Getty Images

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.

Senior woman and grandson (3-5) lying on blanket reading bookAlistair Berg/Getty Images

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.

Meghan Jones
Meghan Jones is a Staff Writer for RD.com who has been writing since before she could write. She graduated from Marist College with a Bachelor of Arts in English and has been writing for Reader's Digest since 2017. In spring 2017, her creative nonfiction piece "Anticipation" was published in Angles literary magazine.