Fun and Frugal Ways to Observe Memorial Day
Memorial Day is the official American kick-off event for summer, and a time when we stop to remember lost loved ones and the sacrifices made by members of the armed service over our nation's many years of history. Here's how to save on everything from food and fun to more formal remembrance activities. (See also: Don't Buy Memories, Make Them)
Most of us can’t imagine observing Memorial Day without some sort of feast. While hosting an event like this does require an outlay of cash, the fact that these gatherings are expected to be extremely casual provides you with a fair bit of financial wiggle room. Here are a few ideas for chowing down on the cheap.
This is frequently the chosen menu focus, but backyard barbecues can be more affordable than you might think. Potato salad and baked beans make inexpensive side dishes, and even full-on carnivores have resources at their disposable to save money on meat. Grocery store sales, veggie combo skewers, and inexpensive selections like drumsticks can come to the rescue of a determined penny pincher.
If you choose to spend the day away from home, then you may be looking for picnic ideas instead. Packing a basket of your favorite fried chicken and homemade whoopie pies for a crowd is one option, but those observing the holiday with a new boo might prefer to enjoy a romantic picnic of wine, cheese, croissants, and fruit.
Some consider it unpatriotic not to participate in at least one tailgating event during the year. Try some of these tailgating menu ideas to accommodate vegans and vegetarians, or toss some riblets and corn on the grill for an inexpensive carnivorous experience. Portable grills are the name of the game here, if you want things to be as fuss-free as possible. Think premade kabobs or hot dogs in order to enjoy yourself and any guests who happen to stop by.
While the intention behind the holiday is to honor lost loved ones and to reflect on the sacrifices made by those lost while serving the nation, the fact is that most families work a bit of fun into the weekend as well.
If you live in a small town, chances are you can walk to the event. If not, your only cost to attend is gas or a subway ticket. As I covered in the article relating to family fun in Aroostook County, small towns and rural destinations often have limited access to cultural events. So if you have a chance to go see a free parade while resting on the grass with a blanket and snacks, why not?
To keep the patriotic color scheme to the forefront, try using a red wheelbarrow or red children’s wagon as the ice bucket for your picnic. You need only to add your chosen beer or other bottled beverage along with perhaps a stick flag or two for a finished — and functional — Memorial Day yard decoration. Small to medium red galvanized buckets are a rustic way to house flatware, cookies, and other food goodies while you feast with your family.
When you finish eating, make a group activity out of planting affordable flowers that you purchase in flats into the buckets to take with you when visiting the cemetery. Other basic ideas include an abundance of small paper flags on sticks, along with red and white streamers and perhaps a few window clings. And of course, there’s always the classic yellow ribbon tied on trees and porch posts.
Rather than purchase a bunch of decorations for the big weekend, why not make decorations as a family? These paper poppies are an international symbol of remembrance and the red blends in with our standard patriotic color selection of red, white, and blue. This preschool poppy craft is designed more for artists with little hands and recycles home materials creatively.
One of the coolest Memorial Day craft ideas I found was this hand and footprint flag from Tip Junkie. It uses paint-covered hands and feet to create a flag on white paper that can be placed into a large frame once it dries. It struck me as one of those rare activities that parents get to do with their kids that is actually frame worthy when it’s finished. It would look great behind the food table or greeting guests at the door.
This is a good idea to have up your sleeve if you get stuck with rain for the holiday.
I’ve written about cinematic theme parties before, but didn’t include one with a military focus. Think "Platoon" or "Saving Private Ryan." Basically, any war movie that depicts a famous war that America participated in throughout history. It brings home the point that those who made a career out of military service weren’t exactly having a party during these periods in history, and gives your guests a conversational starting point to discuss the main reason behind the holiday weekend. Granted, this is more appropriate for grownups than youngsters, so you might want to have an alternative film selection available for the kids in another room.
It’s important to take the time to incorporate formal observances of the holiday, particularly if you have young children you’re trying to teach about its history.
This was something my family did every year growing up. Basically, we recycled containers from year to year, although they occasionally needed a fresh coat of spray paint. Other than that, the only cost was a few flats of affordable flowers from the greenhouse and a few ribbon-making supplies. We got any extra dirt we needed from our garden. We picked a time to create new arrangements for lost loved ones and fallen family members and on one of the days during the holiday weekend, we would make the rounds to the cemeteries where they were all buried to place the fresh boxes of blooms.
National Moment of Remembrance
Every year there is a national moment of remembrance on Memorial Day itself. Participation is free, and it can be scheduled via a simple alarm on your watch or cell phone. This is a simple one to do as a family, and even works if you’re a road warrior on a business trip who hasn’t managed to get the weekend off.
Recite the Poem "In Flanders Fields"
"In Flanders Fields" is a classic, historic piece of poetry which served as the inspiration for poppies becoming such a recognized symbol of Memorial Day and fallen heroes in general. You could have one printed out, read it from your tablet, or even have it written out and framed on an easel to help decorate your food table. At whatever time you feel is appropriate, have someone from the gathering read the poem aloud.
This one might not seem like the most cost-effective, but there’s a method to my madness. If you are on the road anyway, or want your children to have a truer sense of the sacrifices made on their behalf, why not incorporate a trip to the site of a battle or important military cemetery? If not Flander’s Fields themselves, then perhaps Arlington if it’s within reach. There are many battle sites in the Pacific for instance, as well as Europe. Often, a physical visit to such a place drives home the concept more than discussing it or watching a video ever could. If you’re looking for a way for your travel dollars to have a more significant impact, this might be the solution.
How do you typically observe Memorial Day? Do you have a special tradition or form of remembrance others might enjoy trying?