Meaningful Memorial Day traditions to start this year

US Army Soldier Saluting at Sun Rise or Sun Set
Photo credit: KeithBishop/Getty Images

Memorial Day produces an explosion of red, white and blue in cities across the nation. Barbecues and outdoor activities are the rule as we enjoy the three-day weekend that heralds the unofficial beginning of summer. There are many other Memorial Day traditions, however, that remind us of the real reason we observe the holiday: to honor soldiers who have died in defense of our country.

Here are just a few to consider starting this year.

Decorating graves

One of the most commonly observed traditions on Memorial Day is to visit a veterans’ cemetery. American flags and flowers are placed at the grave sites in a practice dating back to the Civil War. Many cemeteries hold ceremonies featuring speeches, music and members of the military.

Thank a veteran

Memorial Day is dedicated to fallen soldiers, but it’s also a great opportunity to recognize and thank current and former members of the Armed Forces. Why not visit a veterans’ home to chat with the residents, introduce your children to these heroes, and maybe even bring some freshly baked cupcakes? They have stories to tell and time on their hands — and they appreciate the company.

MORE: 8 patriotic Memorial Day crafts

Donate to care packages

U.S. troops stationed around the world appreciate care packages from grateful citizens. Many organizations will happily take your donations of food, letters and other goodies. If you don’t personally know a soldier to send a package to, check out these organizations.

Attend a parade

Common in cities big and small, this tradition gives onlookers as well as the veterans marching, walking or riding big smiles and full hearts. The National Memorial Day Parade, held in Washington, D.C., is the largest annual parade in the country, attracting more than 250,000 spectators.

Check out this list of the most popular parades to see if there is one near you.

National Moment of Remembrance

In recognizing that the importance of Memorial Day is often lost among the barbecues and get-togethers, Congress in 2000 created a National Moment of Remembrance. Set your clock for 3 p.m. Memorial Day and pause for a couple minutes to honor the memory and sacrifice of deceased soldiers.

MORE: Memorial Day facts: 15 things you should know

Fly a flag

Whether you choose the flag of our country, of the military branches or of POW/MIAs, fly it proudly in front of your home this Memorial Day.