Memorial Day for Newcomers to the USA – What to Know

Whether you’re visiting the USA on a tourist visa or you’re a new immigrant, it can be useful to familiarize yourself with the country’s observed holidays.

In the US, Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer. Around this time, most primary and secondary schools, as well as colleges and universities end their spring semesters and begin summer break.

Memorial Day weekend is also the time when many swimming pools and water parks open for the summer season. Many Americans spend the long weekend having barbecues, getting together with friends, and enjoying the outdoors.

However, the reason behind Memorial Day is far more somber than food, fellowship, and warm weather. So, it’s a good idea to understand what the holiday entails if this is your first Memorial Day in America.

What Is Memorial Day?

Memorial Day is a national holiday that is observed in remembrance of all fallen US servicemembers (those who have died while serving in the US military). As such, it is a somber occasion with the primary purpose of paying tribute to those who have lost their lives in service of their country.

When Is Memorial Day?

Memorial Day is always observed on the last Monday of the month of May. Since many Americans have this Monday off from work after the normal two-day weekend, it is often collectively referred to as Memorial Day weekend; but the holiday is only officially on Memorial Day.

How Is Memorial Day Observed?

For most Americans, Memorial Day is simply an extra day off of work, often accompanied by barbecues and summer outdoor activities. However, for current and former military members and their families, it is a much more serious occasion. Many spend their day at cemeteries to lay flowers and straighten gravesites. Some towns also hold military parades to honor the fallen. As a non-American, you are still welcome to attend these functions. Simply be respectful, and recognize that this can be a painful, difficult day for many.

Memorial Day Closures

As Memorial Day is a national holiday, you may have to change your plans slightly due to closures.

Virtually all government offices will be closed in observance of the holiday. This includes USCIS and DHS centers, as well as US Postal Service mail service and offices. You are still able to fly and airport security will be staffed by TSA as normal, and police and fire departments always remain in operation, but virtually all other government offices will be closed.

In addition, many private businesses elect to close on Memorial Day. This includes all banks and financial institutions, some grocery stores, restaurants, and other retail establishments. This is at the discretion of the business, so be sure to call or check their website ahead of time prior to making the trip. You may arrive to find the doors closed.

These closures can also extend to private parcel companies like UPS and FedEx. If you need to ship something or pick a package up on Memorial Day, be sure to confirm with the carrier that they will operate on that day.

Memorial Day Etiquette

If you’re invited to a barbecue, pool party, or other event on Memorial Day, don’t hesitate to attend just because you aren’t American. Feel free to enjoy yourself on this day. Just keep your opinions about the holiday respectful, and never speak ill of the United States or its military, as you wouldn’t want to upset anyone who has suffered a loss.

And finally, do not address anyone on this day with “Happy Memorial Day.” Remember that this is a somber holiday that is observed; not a joyous occasion to be celebrated.

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