Memorial Day was first observed on May 30, 1868, but the barbecues and traffic jams came much later! Now considered the start to summer, Memorial Day’s original meaning – honoring and memorializing fallen soldiers – can sometimes get lost among the holiday sales, pool parties and grill lighting. In the D.C. area, there are many ways both to remember the origins of the holiday and have fun. Here are some events to pick from that show why Washington DC is such a special place.
National Memorial Day Parade
Hosted by the American Veterans Center, this event honors past and present members of the military and fallen heroes from the American Revolution through Iraq and Afghanistan. Now in its 15th year, the parade is the country’s largest Memorial Day event, according to the website, and brings hundreds of thousands of spectators to the National Mall. Actors Gary Sinise and Joe Mantegna will be there, plus Kiefer Sutherland, Justin Moore and others will give musical performances. Don’t want to fight the crowds? The parade will be live streamed on YouTube and .
When: May 27, 2 p.m.-4 p.m.
Where: Constitution Ave. from 7th-17th Sts., NW
Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Rally
This is my favorite event in the holiday weekend. Rolling Thunder will gather for its final ride in honor of prisoners of war and servicemen and -women missing in action. The event began in 1988 as an annual protest to bring attention to POWs and MIAs but evolved into a patriotic rally. It starts at the north Pentagon parking lot and runs through the National Mall to West Potomac Park. A speakers program will take place at the Lincoln Memorial at 1:30 p.m. There is also a blessing of the bikes at the National Cathedral on Friday.
When: May 26, noon
Where: North Pentagon parking lot, National Mall and West Potomac Park
National Memorial Day Choral Festival
Take budding musicians to see this show, which features choirs from across the country singing in honor of veterans. The event started in 2008 as a joint venture by the American Veterans Center and Music Celebrations International to bring attention back to the original meaning of the holiday.
Cost: Request tickets online
When: May 26, 3 p.m.
Where: John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
National Memorial Day Concert
This PBS event is celebrating its 30th anniversary with performances by Patti LaBelle, Gavin DeGraw and Alison Krauss, plus appearances by Ret. Gen. Colin Powell, Sam Elliot, Joe Mantegna and Gary Sinise. Military performers include the U.S Army Herald Trumpets, U.S. Navy Band Sea Chanters and the Soldiers’ Chorus. Because this year marks the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, the event will honor those who died in service, and it will also share the story of two infantrymen who became close friends while serving in Vietnam and meet each year at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
When: May 26, 8 p.m.-9:30 p.m.
Where: U.S. Capitol West Lawn
National Harbor Salute the Sunset Concert
See the Airmen of Note, the premier jazz ensemble of the U.S. Air Force, play its version of big band and contemporary jazz. Combine patriotism with a typical Memorial Day meal by grabbing some North Carolina-style barbecue at Brother Jimmy’s BBQ (177 Fleet St., National Harbor).
When: May 27, 7 p.m.-8 p.m.
Where: 165 Waterfront St. (National Harbor, MD)
Mount Vernon Memorial Day Cruise
Take to the Potomac for a round-trip cruise to George Washington’s home. Admission to the famous residence is included, and you get three hours to tour the first president’s estate. Join a guided tour of the home, walk through the gardens, visit the animals that live there and pay your respects at Washington’s burial site. During the cruise, a staff member will point out historic and modern landmarks.
Cost: $45.95/child, $50.95/adult
When: May 27, 8:15 a.m.-3 p.m.
Where: 580 Water St., SW
War Memorials along the National Mall
There are plenty of powerful memorials to help children understand the meaning of Memorial Day. Do a walking tour of them with stops at the National World War II, iconic Vietnam Veterans Memorial and nearby Korean War Veterans Memorial. Lighten the mood afterward by stopping at any of the many food or ice cream trucks dotting the area.
When: Any day
Where: World War II Memorial, 1750 Independence Ave., SW
AND OF COURSE - LOTS OF LOCAL CELEBRATIONS
31st Annual Hometown Holidays at Rockville Town Center
Enjoy all sorts of musicians, such as a ’90s cover band, Irish rock and progressive bluegrass. Kid-friendly shows include Reptiles Alive! and Kidsinger Jim. On Memorial Day, the city-supported, all-volunteer band will perform a musical tribute to America at 9 a.m., and the Memorial Day Ceremony will start 30 minutes later with a wreath laying and 21-gun salute. The 75thAnnual Memorial Day Parade will start at 10:30 a.m.
Cost: Free, but food is for sale
When: May 25 and 26, noon-8 p.m.; May 27, 9-10:30 a.m.
Where: 30 Maryland Ave. (Rockville, MD)
Falls Church 38th Annual Memorial Day Parade and Festival
Start things off on the right foot with the Don Beyer Volvo 3K Fun Run (no registration required) or get moving to the music on the main stage. Children’s rides will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., a veterans ceremony will take place at 11 a.m. and the parade heads out at 2 p.m.
Cost: Free, but rides, food and drink are for sale
When: May 27, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Where: Park Avenue at Little Falls Street, Falls Church
Ringing in Hope: A Salute to Our Troops at One Loudoun
Sign up for the 5K, 10K or 1K Family Run/Walk and don your red, white and blue as you put one foot in front of the other to raise money for Boulder Crest Retreat, a wellness center in Loudoun County for veterans and their families healing from combat-related stress. There will be face painting, a costume contest, music and food at the finish line.
Cost: $15-$50, free/child 3 and under
When: May 27, 8 a.m.-10 a.m.
Where: One Loudoun, 20626 Easthampton Plaza (Ashburn, VA)