Small Talk for Memorial Day – The Last Monday of May

Posted On: May 22, 2015

While the official reason for Memorial Day is to commemorate the fallen soldiers who have fought for the country, the unofficial reasons dominate small talk discussions among many during this time of the year.

When is Memorial Day in 2022?  

Memorial Day falls on the last Monday of May.

This makes this Memorial Day holiday a three day weekend


How Many Days Do People Take Off?

While the last Monday of May is the official “day off,” many who work in offices and salaried positions may also take off the preceding Friday to make it a ‘long weekend.’ This idea of making holidays into a ‘long weekend’ happens for Labor Day as well.

Note that Memorial Day is a Federal holiday. Banks, post offices, schools and government offices are closed. Stores, gas stations, restaurants and other related businesses are often open. People working in such jobs on Memorial Day may get paid extra for working on this day.


Should I Wish Americans a “Happy Memorial Day?”

The short answer is “no.”

Though the image in this post reads “Happy Memorial Day,” I am told this is not something we should typically use in everyday conversation.

Memorial Day is a day set aside to remember fallen soldiers (unlike Veterans Day); those who have died in the line of duty. When we think of those who have passed on, typically, it’s not a ‘happy day.’ So, if this probably well-intentioned greeting is said to a person with a relative, friend or neighbor who has given their life for the country, they could get offended or feel as if the person giving the greeting doesn’t have empathy for those who have traded their life for American freedoms.


For Most Americans the REAL Meaning of Memorial Day is Lost 

From the reading I have done, there may be two main reasons many Americans do not know the real significance of this day.

The first reason could be related to the fact that only .4% of the American population make up active- duty military (source). To top this, according to the same source (Bloomberg), “Military personnel also tend to come from certain parts of the country more than others.” While most military personnel come from Georgia, Florida, South Carolina and Virginia, the fewest come from Washington, D.C., North Dakota, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and New York (see source page for more information).

The second reason may correlate with the Uniform Monday Holiday Act which was passed in 1968 (which moved several holidays to a Monday creating three-day weekends), Memorial Day’s meaning has been degraded to being known more as the ‘unofficial start of summer and the end of the school year’ rather than it’s original intended meaning.


So what are the origins of Memorial Day?

Memorial Day has it’s origins in 1868, when it was proclaimed that “Decoration Day” on May 30th would be a day set aside to visit the graves of fallen soldiers, decorate them with flowers and flags and honor them for their service.

Unlike Veterans Day, which continues to fall on the fixed date of November 11th regardless of the day of the week, Memorial Day’s current observance is on the fourth Monday of May, creating a three day weekend. Some argue that by combining Memorial Day with a weekend rather than it being a stand alone holiday has been one reason this day has been degraded to a weekend of fun, frolic, bar-be-ques, road trips, and a trip to the local swimming pool which probably is opening for the summer season. Because of this, many do actually now have ‘fun’ on Memorial Day, and even go on vacations, which was not the original intended meaning of this commemorative day. For Gold Star Families (these are families with sons, daughters, fathers, mothers or relatives who have died in battle) or those who know Gold Star Families, they can tell you how they feel about most modern ‘observances’ of Memorial Day.


Small Talk Dos and Don’ts with Americans for Memorial Day


Should I thank them for their family member’s service?

I am not sure if everyone wants to hear this. Most people know this is coming from a good place, but then others feel that accepting thanks is akin to bragging. Most veterans (alive and passed on) and their families feel like they are just doing their job, so praise or thanks is not required. I doubt anyone will get offended to receive this message, but it may not be the message they are looking for.


What can I talk about for Memorial Day?

If you do know about a colleague who has a family member or friend who has served and is part of the war dead, and they have been open about talking about it with you or others, we could ask them questions like:

1. How do you commemorate name of person on Memorial Day?
2. I hear that on Memorial Day, it’s customary to celebrate the lives of those who have died in the line of duty. I remember that you mentioned that your relative served in the military. How will you remember him/her on Memorial Day?
3. Do you attend any events for Memorial Day?

Rather than specific questions, if your colleague is open to talking about their relative, some people just like to talk and share good memories and stories of their loved ones. It doesn’t have to be related to war or the military. Just as any of us like to share stories of our near and dear in everyday situations, they may like to remember and share stories of everyday experiences they had with their relative. Be a shoulder to lean on and an empathetic friend to listen to their stories and memories.


Small Talk for Memorial Day – Safe Topics that Shouldn’t Offend

With any small talk topics, we need to remember to keep the conversation pinpointed to the person you are talking to and not bring their family or friends into the discussion. The two exceptions to this are if they bring it up or you have known them for a long time and already know about their family and friends.


That out of the way, typical questions you could ask to your colleague include:

      • Any interesting plans for the Memorial Day weekend?
      • Anything fun planned for the long weekend?
      • How do you spend the Memorial Day weekend?


Other topics people may talk about include:

      • Weather – Remember, most want to do outdoor activities!
      • Gas prices – Many people complain about the gas prices as they start rising this time of the year.
      • Traffic – As many take road trips, they may talk about routes or traffic they will encounter on their trip.
      • Graduations / End of School Year – While most college students have completed their academic years by Memorial Day, school children (up to 12th grade) are preparing for final exams, and some are getting ready for graduation ceremonies.
      • Doing anything fun this long weekend?
      • Taking a road trip this Memorial Day weekend?
      • Looks like the weather is shaping up for a good holiday weekend. Any plans? 
      • How’s the weather this weekend? 
      • I heard it is Memorial Day weekend this weekend, doing anything interesting? 
For more ideas, watch this news clips on hot topics to discuss about for Memorial Day.


When is the Best Time to Talk About These Topics?

Plan this conversation for the last call during the week before the Memorial Day holiday. Make it at the latest the Thursday before the Friday before the holiday weekend. Using these questions and conversation to end the call will leave the call on a good note for both sides!!


What Do People Do On Memorial Day?

This day for many more is the exciting day that unofficially starts the summer activity and holiday season. For this reason some of the most popular activities of labor day include outdoor activities:

      • Bar-Be-Que (BBQ)
      • Picnics
      • Camping
      • Swimming
      • Outdoor Parties
      • Hiking, Cycling, or Outdoor Activities 
      • Road Trips
      • Fly Flags, Wear Flag-Related Items, Wear/Decorate with Red, White and Blue

For those who do commemorate the fallen soldiers, they may do any of the following:

      • attend or participate in parades
      • visit graveyards, burial grounds, or cemeteries of the fallen soldiers
      • read or learn about war stories
      • participate in war recreations 
      • visit famous battle sites 


What do Americans celebrate on Memorial Day?

Memorial Day is a federal holiday in the United States for remembering the people who died while serving in the country’s armed forces. Veterans Day (November 11 every year) is not to be confused with Memorial Day; Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans, while Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who gave their lives and those who perished while in service.

To commemorate service men and women, communities may have parades and patriotic events. Families and friends of fallen service people may visit grave sites, placing flowers and flags to honor their family members. In some parts of the U.S., communities will re-enact battle scenes from American wars.


Memorial Day Dates 2021-2030

2021: May 31, 2021
2022: May 30, 2022
2023: May 29, 2023
2024: May 27, 2024
2025: May 26, 2025
2026: May 25, 2026
2027: May 31, 2027
2028: May 29, 2028
2029: May 28, 2029
2030: May 17, 2030


Jennifer Kumar provides programs for offshore teams and US based teams to bridge culture gapsContact us for more information.



Related Posts:
Small Talk for July 4 – US Independence Day
Tips & Questions to use for daily small talk with US customers  



c2014-2022 Authentic Journeys. Do not reprint without permission. Updated May 2021, Feb. 2022.

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