You are on page 1of 5

America’s Holidays and

Celebrations
Compiled by O. Zabolotnyi

Right: Independence Day fireworks in New


York

America is blessed with rich ethnic


heritage and, thus, many holidays to
celebrate. Although the word ‘holiday’
literally means ‘holy day’, many of them
are not religious, but commemorative.
Here we can cast a glance on just a few of
a number of nation-wide celebrations, and, unfortunately have to ignore hundreds
(if not thousands) local ones.

INDEPENDENCE DAY is, undoubtedly, the major national holiday in the USA. It is
celebrated on July 4. By the mid-1700s it became difficult for thirteen British
colonies in the New World to be ruled by a monarch 3,000 miles across the ocean.
The British Empire imposed high taxes upon the colonies undermining their
development.
Left: Traditional Independence Day
parade

In 1774, the First Continental


Congress drew up a list of grievances
against the British crown. The
document was the first one that
spoke about the separation of the
colonies from England. In 1775 the
Revolutionary War began. On July 2,
1776, the Second Continental
Congress in Philadelphia presented
another document, which was adopted two days later, on July 4, and is known as
the Declaration of Independence. Although the war went on until 1783, it is July 4,
1776 is considered to be the birthday of the American nation and is celebrated in
every county and town of the USA.
On July 4 Americans have a holiday from work. People have day-long picnics with
barbecues and hot dogs. Many cities and towns have parades with people dressed
as the original ‘founding fathers’ and Revolutionary War soldiers. In the evening
people gather to watch spectacular firework displays. Wherever Americans are
around the globe, they will get together to celebrate
Independence Day.

LABOR DAY comes in the calendar after Independence Day.


It is celebrated on the first Monday in September. The idea
of the holiday is to honor working people of America and to
give them a long weekend holiday from work.
Labor Day was started in 1882 by a union called the Knights of Labor. The first
celebration was a long parade followed by a picnic in New York City. It was a part of
the labor unions’ fight for workers’ rights. In 1886 the American Federation of Labor
was formed to defend the employees’

Page 2.
interests. In 1894 the US Congress made the first Monday of September a legal
national holiday.
Labor Day is traditionally celebrated with parades and union activists’ speeches.
Barbecues and picnics are also popular activities to follow the official part. This
holiday marks the end of the summer season for every American.

HALLOWEEN is not an official holiday in the USA, but it is widely celebrated on


October 31 in the whole English-speaking world due to the ancient Celtic tradition.
The name of the festival means “holy evening” (All Hallow Eve) because it happens
the day before All Saints Day (November 1) established by the early Christian
church on the British Isles. It was then a way to combine new Christian tradition
with an ancient pagan festival of the dead.

The Halloween symbolic colors are orange,


green, yellow and black. Black cats, skulls,
skeletons, ghosts, bats, witches’ hats and
brooms can be seen everywhere. Another
prominent Halloween symbol is a Jack-o-
Lantern: a hollow pumpkin with a carved face
and a lit candle inside. An Irish legend says
that once there was a man called Jack who
was not accepted in Heaven, because he was
a sinner; and equally unwanted in hell because he had played jokes on the devil. So,
Jack was doomed to trudge around the world with his lantern until the Judgment
Day.
Children’s main and favorite Halloween activity is trick-or-treating. They dress up
in costumes of ghosts, skeletons, witches, pirates, and horror movie characters and
go around the neighborhood from door to door greeting the hosts saying ‘Trick or
treat!’ They are given fruit, candy, cakes and small money by the neighbors.

THANKSGIVING DAY is marked on the last Thursday in November making that


weekend a really long one. All generations of every family sit together at the feast
table on that day. The Thanksgiving
weekend gives the start to the
Christmas season.
This holiday has a long history, which
started in 1620 when a Protestant
religious group known today as
‘Pilgrims’ arrived in the New World on
board of the ship called Mayflower, and
settled in what is now known as the
state of Massachusetts. Their first
winter in America was full of hardship
and drama. They arrived too late to farm the land, so they starved. Half of the
colony died from disease. The following spring the local tribe of Native Americans
taught them how to grow corn and other crops. They also helped them to hunt and
fish. In the autumn of 1621 the Pilgrims got a rich harvest of corn, barley, beans,
pumpkin and other vegetables. They prepared a feast and sat together with the
Indian chief and ninety other natives at the abundant dinner tables. Of course, prior
to dining they praised the Lord, and thanked Him for all the food and wealth He
gave them. This is how the festivity got started.
In the years that followed colonists in many settlements celebrated the harvest
with a feast of thanks. After the United States gained Independence the congress
recommended a single day of thanksgiving

Page 3.
for the entire country. George Washington, the
first president of the USA, suggested November
26 as Thanksgiving Day. It was Abraham Lincoln
who established the holiday on the last Thursday
of November after the end of the Civil War.
A traditional Thanksgiving meal consists of
roast turkey stuffed with herb-flavored bread,
cranberry jelly, mashed potatoes, and a
pumpkin pie. Other dishes may vary regionally:
ham, sweet potatoes, creamed corn, maple
syrup etc.

CHRISTMAS dinner also includes stuffed turkey and gathers families at the table to
enjoy the celebration of one of the most wonderful holidays of the year. However,
some families prefer ham or roast
goose for that occasion.
Right: ‘Christmas Tree -1’ is placed in
Washington D.C. right in front of the
White House, the residence of the
president of the United States.

Christmas is a Christian holiday


that marks the birth of Jesus Christ.
Most Christians observe it on
December 25. Homes, streets,
stores, gas stations, schools and

hospitals are decorated


with Christmas trees,
wreaths and colored
lights. The sound of
bells and Christmas
carols can be heard
everywhere.
Santa Claus is the one
who is considered to be
in charge of the Christmas presents. Children write letters to Santa Claus and tell
him what presents they would like to get. Many shopping malls hire people to wear
a Santa’s costume and listen to children’s requests. It is believed that Santa Claus
arrives on Christmas Eve in a sleigh pulled by reindeer and brings the presents into
‘good’ children’s homes through a chimney. Some kids hang up stockings for Santa
Claus to fill them with candy, fruit and other small presents. There is also a tradition
to leave a glass of milk and some cookies on the table for Santa to have a snack.
Groups of people walk from house to house singing Christmas carols. People give
them money, candy or some small gifts. Singers may also be invited inside for a
warm drink.

Page 4.
SAINT PATRICK’S DAY is celebrated on March 17 not only
by Irish people. There is even a motto saying: ‘Everybody is
Irish on March 17!’ Celebrations are generally themed around
all things Irish and, by association, the color green. Both
Christians and non-Christians celebrate the secular version of
the holiday by wearing green or orange, eating Irish food
and/or green foods, drinking Irish beverages and attending
parades.

Schools also often dress up in


green on St. Patrick’s Day. In
Chicago the river is dyed green on that day.
The legend says that St. Patrick used the shamrock, a
three-leaved plant, to explain the Holy Trinity to the pre-
Christian Irish. The wearing of and display of shamrocks
and shamrock-inspired designs have become a distinctive
feature of the
saint's holiday.

Right: Chicago,
Illinois, March 17, 2008. The river has been dyed
green.

EASTER, a Christian holiday connected


with resurrection of Jesus Christ, is supposed to
be celebrated on a Sunday between the
dates of March 22 and April 25. In fact,
Easter was originally a pagan festival. The ancient Saxons celebrated the return of
spring with an uproarious festival commemorating their goddess of offspring and of
springtime, Eastre. It has some distinctive symbols that are not connected with the
Biblical text: a painted Easter egg and an Easter Bunny (rabbit).
The Easter Bunny is not a modern invention. The symbol originated with the pagan
festival of Eastre. The goddess, Eastre, was worshipped by the Anglo-Saxons
through her earthly symbol, the rabbit. The
Germans brought the symbol of the Easter rabbit to
America. It was widely ignored by other Christians
until shortly after the Civil War. In fact, Easter was
not widely celebrated in America until after that
time.
As with the Easter Bunny and the holiday itself, the
Easter Egg predates the Christian holiday of Easter.
The exchange of eggs in the springtime is a custom
that was centuries old when Easter was first
celebrated by Christians. From the earliest times,
the egg was a symbol of rebirth in most cultures.
Eggs were often wrapped in gold leaf or, if you were a
peasant, colored brightly by boiling them with the leaves or petals of certain
flowers. Today, children hunt colored eggs and place them in Easter baskets along
with the modern version of real Easter eggs -- those made of plastic or chocolate
candy.