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5 Thoughtful Ways to Recognize Memorial Day

By: Olivia Timbone

Originally called Decoration Day, Memorial Day was established in 1868 and became a national holiday in 1971. The holiday gives us a chance to pause, grieve and honor those who have died in the various wars throughout our history. 

Nearly two centuries later, Memorial Day gives us an opportunity not only to remember and honor fallen soldiers, but also to reconnect with elderly friends and family members, serve in our local communities and reflect on what it means to lead a meaningful life. Here are five ways to make your Memorial Day both relaxing and reflective.

Intentionally spend time with older people in your family or community

Busting out the burgers and beers is a popular way to spend the extra Monday off from work. If you’re planning to spend Memorial Day with a casual cookout, consider intentionally inviting some older family members and friends and making time to ask them their advice on navigating this adventure we call life. Hearing from elderly friends and family members who have lived through difficult times and handled life’s ups and downs can help us navigate our own lives with more gratitude, perspective and wisdom. 

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Leave flowers at a local military graveyard

Even if you don’t personally know someone who died in a war, you can still express gratitude and honor for deceased soldiers by leaving flowers in a military graveyard. This practice also creates a unique opportunity to think about your own mortality and what it means to live and die well. Perhaps this sounds a little morbid, but reflecting on this reality can be a profoundly positive exercise, leading to greater gratitude, intention and clarity about what’s important and how you want to spend your life.

Choose one war to intentionally learn about

War is an extremely undesirable reality of our world and one most of us would prefer to not think about, but studying historic wars can teach us a lot about our world and what it takes to achieve peace. Most of us mainly learn about wars in school and once we finish our history exams, these lessons quickly fade into the background. In the weeks and days leading up to Memorial Day, choose one historic war involving the U.S. to study more closely, whether through a book, film, podcast or documentary. If you have older children, this can be a meaningful family activity together followed up by discussion. It’s also a good day to listen to inspirational historic speeches, many of which you can find here.  

Spend time with veterans on Memorial Day

Volunteer with an organization that serves living veterans

One of the perks of Memorial Day is the chance to have an extra day from work. Before filling it up with a trip to the beach, cookouts and shopping while the sales are hot, why not consider spending a few hours volunteering with an organization that serves living veterans or the families of those lost in war? This day could also be a good time to spend time with refugees from current wars. Serving meals, helping fix up temporary housing for refugees or volunteering in your city’s Memorial Day parade are all meaningful and positively reflective ways to invest your extra time. 

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Observe a moment of silence at 3:00pm or attend a local Memorial Day parade

One of the most traditional ways to commemorate the soldiers who have died in service is to take a moment of silence at 3:00pm. If your family has relatives who died in service, this could be a great time to plan a small gathering with refreshments, a chance to share memories and to celebrate their courage. If this kind of family gathering isn’t possible for you, planning to acknowledge the day in silence at 3:00 could be the starting point for reflective practices like prayer, journaling or a long walk in nature, all of which could be experienced alone or with friends. 

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Memorial Day gives us an opportunity to imitate the virtues of those who were courageous enough to go to war. Many soldiers who enlisted were motivated by gratitude for their country, a willingness to serve and an understanding that life is most meaningful when we live by our deepest values. Finding ways to honor their legacy on this day by spending time with the elderly, serving our community or spending intentional time reflecting on our values can help us elevate the holiday into something truly meaningful.