This year, Memorial Day is on Monday, May 31. Memorial Day is more than just a day off or a marker for summer festivities to begin. Especially if you have veterans in your family, circle of friends, or at your workplace, it’s important to do your part and appreciate these individuals.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What to Say Instead of ‘Happy Memorial Day’
- How to Thank a Veteran For Their Service on Memorial Day
- How to Acknowledge Loss or Death to a Veteran on Memorial Day
If you’re not sure what to say or do for a veteran on Memorial Day, we have provided a variety of ideas below. Some suggestions are also appropriate to say to someone even if you’re unsure if they have direct ties to the armed forces.
What to Say Instead of ‘Happy Memorial Day’
There may be instances when you don’t feel that a generic “Happy Memorial Day” is fitting. Here are a few messages and actions that are acceptable alternatives.
1. “Enjoy the holiday”
Telling someone to enjoy the holiday is a good placeholder when the day has significance but may not necessarily be cause for “celebration” in everyone’s eyes.
Though Memorial Day can be celebrated and enjoyed, it may weigh heavier on the shoulders of some people than others. You should do your part to be sensitive to this.
2. “I hope you have a relaxing Memorial Day”
“I hope you have a relaxing Memorial Day” is appropriate to say to someone with or without ties to veterans. Though the day serves as a way to recognize sacrifice, hard work, loss, and much more, the whole point of it is to reflect our freedoms. Relaxation and reflection go hand-in-hand.
3. “Take care today”
If someone you know is a veteran or has significant emotional ties to Memorial Day specifically, telling him or her to take care is meaningful without overdoing it. It’s a good way to facilitate or begin a discussion with someone who’s going through a hard time.
Saying “take care today” is essentially the same as saying “have a good day,” but instead may help establish a level of emotional safety with the person you’re speaking to. Even a small interaction such as this can be really important, especially if they’re looking for someone to listen with a patient ear. If nothing else, they will feel seen.
4. Host a cookout or potluck
Even if no one you know is a veteran, having a cookout to encourage community, reflection, and unity can be meaningful all the same.
Invite neighbors you may not normally talk to or reach out to coworkers or other acquaintances. One of these individuals may know a veteran who could use a renewed sense of community or a group to reflect with.
5. Decorate a shared space
If you have no control over whether your workplace has the day off on Memorial Day, you can still do your part to highlight the holiday and make it feel special. You can place a wreath made of flowers, a few flags, or something else with red, white, and blue.
Bring in festive treats or a homemade fruit tray for your coworkers. Gratitude for those who have served doesn’t have to be exclusive. You can also choose to make a small display or offer flags in another community space that’s meaningful to you, or even decorate your car.
How to Thank a Veteran For Their Service on Memorial Day
There’s nothing wrong with the common phrase “thank you for your service.” However, if you’re looking for a different way to say so or to show your appreciation, here are a few ideas.
6. “Thank you for making this day possible”
Thanking a veteran for their past service and highlighting the impact it still has today is a good way to show you understand the gravity of what they’ve done. They may not fully recognize their impact, even.
7. “You’re on my mind today, thank you”
Telling someone they are on your mind is a good way to express that you care without coming off too strong (if you fear that’s a possibility). This is a good brief message to say or send to a neighbor or acquaintance, for example.
If you’re reaching out to a loved one, judge whether you should elaborate further. Some people have difficulty speaking about their time in the service with just anyone.
8. “You and your service are so important to me”
It’s not every day that others hear of their value to you. Letting them know you acknowledge and value what they did during their life can mean a lot. Memorial Day is the perfect time to express this and have a larger conversation.
9. Cook for them
If it’s easier for you to show your love and thanks through actions, sharing food is a beautiful thing to do. It’s quite possible your recipient may value acts of service a bit more than other forms of thanks, too.
Cooking for a veteran in your life can create a lasting memory or form the foundation for an ongoing tradition. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a massive cookout or a four-course meal, however. It can be something as simple as a dessert they will enjoy. Make something that will be meaningful between the two of you.
10. Make a video of “thank you”s
If you work with a veteran, for example, you can make a video of yourself and your coworkers sharing their appreciation for their service. Sometimes a video can convey more of what you need to than a card or set of letters.
How to Acknowledge Loss or Death to a Veteran on Memorial Day
The nature of Memorial Day involves remembering those we’ve lost. While visiting the cemetery of your loved one to pay your respects (or even of individuals you didn’t know) is important, there are some other ways to acknowledge and honor these deaths.
11. Plant a tree, flower, or living memorial in someone’s honor
This tree, flower, or living memorial doesn’t have to be large or difficult to care for. On the contrary, you should choose something that will thrive under your care. You may also choose to dedicate a tree at a park or other public place in your area.
You may feel as though the larger the plant, the larger the honor. But instead, try to select something that will be meaningful to you or your late loved one. If they loved lemonade or lemon-flavored dishes, for example, what better way to honor them than to plant a lemon tree in your yard?
12. Volunteer for an organization that helps veterans
A great way to honor your loved one is to help others in their memory. Many veterans’ organizations are always looking for volunteers as well. There are likely a variety of different things you can do — from companionship to helping build homes, to food services, and much more.
13. Have a moment of silence or vigil
There are a few tricks to hosting an effective moment of silence, however. It may also make the event more special if you also take the time to share a speech, prayers, or poetry that can relate to Memorial Day and any late loved ones.
14. Or, celebrate loudly
Similar to the idea behind celebration of life ceremonies, perhaps a somber, quiet event doesn’t seem like the right thing to do. Celebrating the life of a veteran you loved isn’t poor taste — especially if they were always down for a good party. You may also be interested in these Memorial Day party ideas.
However, keep your neighbor’s feelings in mind, as well as any environmental restrictions against fireworks or firecrackers. Setting off paper lanterns can be a beautiful (but more quiet) alternative way to pay tribute.
15. Write thank you notes to veterans in your community
Writing thank you notes to other veterans in your community on behalf of your loved one can highlight their service while asserting gratitude. This will likely be met with appreciation, too, since you’re doing your part to show that you haven’t forgotten him or her. This is a worthwhile fear that some veterans may have.
More Than a Day Off
Whether your upcoming Memorial Day will be spent working or enjoying time with family and friends, we all owe it to those in service to appreciate the day and express our thanks. It may come and go like any other day, but it’s an important opportunity to reflect on the sacrifices others have made.
Of course, it’s more than acceptable to celebrate quietly or loudly, as long as you recognize why you’re able to. Check out the rest of Cake for end-of-life planning resources as well as this checklist for what to do when a veteran dies, questions to ask veterans, and history of Decoration Day.