The Unofficial Guide To Memorial Day In The USA

Memorial Day is a day marked with barbecues, parades, a long weekend and a very American amount of patriotism. It is a day often accompanied by the sound of lawn mowers, the crisp taste of lemonade, the sun on your shoulders. Most kids love Memorial Day because it is the kickoff to summer and the opening of most swimming pools across the country. Adults enjoy it as it’s the first paid day off since January 1st – unless you work for a generous company. There are Memorial Day’s in many countries, but this year, celebrate like a true American with this guide.


Memorial Day Cemetary
Make sure to wear your red, white and blue on May 29!

The History:

Memorial Day was founded in 1868, shortly after the American Civil War, as a day to decorate the graves of fallen soldiers. It is now celebrated every year on the last Monday in May to honor those who have died while in military service. Visit any cemetery in the country on Memorial Day and you will likely see tiny flags marking the final resting place of many of America’s bravest.

Memorial Day Flag
*Taps playing in the distance*

The Celebrations:

Americans celebrate their day off by attending parades, hosting outdoor parties, and generally wearing a lot of red, white, and blue. The parades usually feature marching bands from high schools or colleges, and military marches for current and veteran armed forces. At the nation’s capital in Washington, a concert is played on the lawn of the Capitol building, and many tourists flock to see monuments in the area. It’s usually a warm weekend and beaches and pools open to accommodate swimmers and sun-tanners.

Memorial Days DC
Spring and early summer is a great time to visit America’s capital city.

The Barbecues:

Block parties and barbecues are common across the country on Memorial Day weekend, and usually feature families and friends getting together while grilling outside. Common foods include burgers, hot-dogs or bratwursts, pasta salads, watermelon and a dessert like Bomb Pops which are red, white and blue popsicles, and my personal favorite.

Memorial Day BBQ
Many people also hold graduation parties for high school and college students during this weekend, so try to go party-hopping if you are invited to multiple events. It’s not seen as rude, in fact- it’s the norm!

The Race:

One of the oldest events that take place during the Memorial Day weekend is the Indy 500 in Indianapolis, Indiana. It is a car race that this year will celebrate its 101st running! It’s incredibly popular and often features many celebrity appearances- last year Lady Gaga even drove a pace car!

Memorial Day Lady Gaga
Mother Monster drives the pace car for the Indianapolis 500, May 2016

As a person who grew up in Indiana, my Memorial Day weekend always included the race. My family has had tickets for 88 of those 101 years, and it is a family tradition for many in the Midwest. In college, I was able to represent my university by marching with Purdue’s All-American Marching Band, the official college band of the race. In some years, I was lucky enough to interact with drivers, getting a signature from Tony Kanaan from Brazil and a photo with Will Power from Australia! The race regularly draws in 300,000+ people in about a two-and-a-half-mile space and is truly the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. I would encourage anyone who has the chance to see it, to go.

Memorial Day Me
Look! I nearly passed out from heat stroke in both of these photos and look how happy I was to be there anyway!

What are you excited to do this Memorial Day? Let me know in the comments or on social media!

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Emily Thomas

Emily Thomas is a globe-trotting blogger sticking it out in Corporate America until her next big adventure. Her day job is a marketing specialist for a financial technology company in the Chicago suburbs, where she creates case studies, coordinates trade show displays and organizes marketing emails for campaigns, among other creative endeavors. As a strong writer with an eye for design, Emily has also been published both domestically and internationally in newspapers, magazines and other print and online media. She studied abroad in 2013 in Beijing, China, and has been country-hopping since she was a child. Emily holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Purdue University in English and Communication and is looking to pursue a master's degree within the next few years.

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