Friday, March 11, 2011

Holidays and Celebrations in the USA

National holidays in January include New Year's Day (1 January) and the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. This holiday, which is observed on the third Monday in January, honours the civil rights leader who was assassinated in 1968. Because Abraham Lincoln's birthday is on 12 February and George Washington's birthday is on 22 February, Americans honour these two presidents, and others, on Presidents' Day, which occurs the third Monday in February.

Many Americans celebrate Easter (in either March or April) by going to church and getting together with their family and friends. Children often go on Easter-egg hunts to search for hidden dyed eggs and other treats. Memorial Day is observed on the last Monday in May. It honours those who have given up their lives in defence of their country during wartime. The Fourth of July is celebrated with fireworks, picnics, and outdoor barbecues. Also known as Independence Day, this holiday celebrates the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, when the American colonies separated from Great Britain and formed the US.

On the first Monday in September, many Americans take a day off work to mark Labor Day. Trade unions initiated this holiday to commemorate the achievement of improved labour conditions and a shorter working day. Columbus Day (honouring the landing of Christopher Columbus in the New World on 12 October 1492) is now observed on the second Monday in October, although in recent years Native Americans and others have protested against the celebration of this day. Veterans' Day (11 November) honours those who gave their lives for their country during World Wars I and II. On the fourth Thursday of November, Americans celebrate Thanksgiving. The origin of this holiday is associated with the Pilgrims, who settled in New England in the early 1600s and shared a feast with members of the indigenous Wampanoag people. These days, Thanksgiving is celebrated by sharing an elaborate dinner, often including turkey and several other dishes, with family and friends.

The Christmas season often begins the day after Thanksgiving. Many people take this day off work to begin their Christmas shopping. During the month of December, Americans traditionally decorate their homes with a Christmas tree, colourful lights, and wreaths. They send greetings cards to their friends and family, sing Christmas carols, and shop for gifts. On Christmas Eve (24 December), children traditionally hang stockings by the fireplace for Santa Claus, whom they believe will come down the chimney during the night and leave presents for them. Christmas Day (25 December) is celebrated as both a religious and secular holiday. Many Americans who are practising Christians go to church on this day to honour the birth of Jesus. Many Americans also celebrate Christmas by joining their family or friends to exchange gifts, share a meal, drink egg-nog, and observe other traditions, which may vary according to region or family heritage.

There are also special days that, while not official holidays, are still widely observed. Groundhog Day (2 February) is a rural tradition that claims if a groundhog emerges from its burrow on that day and sees its shadow, it will go back inside and there will be six more weeks of winter. On Saint Valentine's Day (14 February), sweethearts and friends give each other greetings cards, flowers, and chocolates to show their affection. Saint Patrick's Day (17 March), the feast day of the Irish patron saint, is celebrated by Irish Americans with parades, parties, and the wearing of the colour green. Mothers' Day (the second Sunday in May) and Fathers' Day (the third Sunday in June) are days for children to give greetings cards and gifts to their parents, and to perhaps prepare them a special meal, or help around the house. Flag Day (14 June) celebrates the adoption of the US flag in 1777. Halloween (31 October) has its roots in ancient British autumn festivals for warding off evil spirits and celebrating the harvest; in the US it is a night for children to dress up, often as ghosts or witches, and go from door to door asking for sweets.

Many Jewish people in the US observe the High Holy Days, which begin in September or October (according to the lunar calendar) with Rosh Hashanah (New Year) and end with Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), a day of confession, repentance, and prayers for the forgiveness of sins committed during the year. Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, is celebrated in December by many Jews. Gifts are exchanged and a special ceremony is conducted around a candelabrum, called a menorah, with nine candles. The number of candles lit each day corresponds to the particular day of the eight day festival-for example, five candles are lit on the fifth day. The ninth candle is used to light the others. While the candles burn, songs are sung and games are played.

The main holiday months are from June to early September, when the schools take their summer break. Many US workers get only two weeks of paid holiday a year, much less than most Europeans.

No comments:

Post a Comment


All About Photos