Holidays in the United States of America
Introduction (Only names)…………………………………………………1
New Year’s Day……………………………………………………………4
Martin Luther King’s Day………………………………………………….5
Labour Day …………………………………………………………………16
April Fool’s Day……………………………………………………………30
1. Only names
People in every culture celebrate holidays. Although the word “holiday”
literally means “holy day,” most American holidays are not religious,
but commemorative in nature and origin. Because the nation is blessed
with rich ethnic heritage it is possible to trace some of the American
holidays to diverse cultural sources and traditions, but all holidays
have taken on a distinctively American flavour. In the United States,
the word “holiday” is synonymous with “celebration”.
In the strict sense, there are no federal (national) holidays in the
United States. Each of the 50 states has jurisdiction over its holidays.
In practice, however, most states observe the federal (“legal or public
“) holidays, even though the President and Congress can legally
designate holidays only for federal government employees.
The following holidays per year are proclaimed by the federal
New Year’s Day January, 1
Martin Luther King Day third Monday in January
Presidents’ Day third Monday in February
Memorial Day last Monday in May
Independence Day July, 4
Labour Day first Monday in September
Columbus Day second Monday in October
Veterans’ Day November, 11
Thanksgiving Day fourth Thursday in November
Christmas Day December, 25
In 1971, the dates of many federal holidays were officially moved to the
nearest Monday by then-President Richard Nixon. There are four holidays
which are not necessarily celebrated on Mondays: Thanksgiving Day, New
Year’s Day, Independence Day and Christmas Day. When New Year’s Day,
Independence Day, or Christmas Day falls on a Sunday, the next day is
also a holiday. When one of these holidays falls on a Saturday, the
previous day is also a holiday. Federal government offices, including
the post office, are always closed on all federal holidays. Schools and
businesses close on major holidays like Independence Day and Christmas
Day but may not always be closed, for example, on Presidents’ Day or
Federal holidays are observed according to the legislation of individual
states. The dates of these holidays, and others, are decided upon by
each state government, not by the federal (national) government. Each
state can agree on the same date that the President has proclaimed, such
as Thanksgiving Day. State legislation can also change the date of a
holiday for its own special commemoration. Cities and towns can decide
not to celebrate a federal legal holiday at all. However, the majority
of the states (and the cities and towns within them) usually choose the
date or day celebrated by the rest of the nation. There are other
“legal” or “public” holidays which are observed at the state or local
level. The closing of local government offices and businesses will vary.
Whether citizens have the day off from work or not depends on local
There are other “legal” or “public” holidays which are observed at the
state or local level. The closing of local government offices and
businesses will vary. Whether citizens have the day off from work or not
depends on local decisions. Some “legal” or “public” holidays are
specific only to an individual state. For example, Nebraska always
celebrates Arbor Day on April 22, the birthday of the originator of the
holiday. Since Arbor Day originated as a treeplanting day, different
states change the date depending on the best season for planting trees
in their region: Hawaiians plant trees on the first Friday in November.
You can thumb through an ordinary calendar and discover many special
days i.e. “minor holidays” which are observed by a relatively small
number of people or by a particular interest group. For example, “Girl
Scouts’ Birthday” (March 12), “Citizenship Day” (September 17), “United
Nations Day” (October 24) would have limited observance. “Hog Callers’
Day” would have even less.
Events involving famous Americans, living or dead, have a wider appeal.
Many Americans may have forgotten the exact date when President John F.
Kennedy was assassinated (November 22, 1963), but they remember exactly
where they were and what they were doing when they first learned about
his tragic death. Other days commemorate events which may be personally
significant for one generation but have less relevance for another. For
example, Pearl Harbor Day (December 7) marks the day when Japanese
Imperial Forces attacked Hawaii in 1941 and brought the US into World
War II. President Franklin D. Roosevelt in his address to the nation
referred to the attack as “a day that will live in infamy”. Adults and
children of the time have a personal recollection of the day. The
younger generations of today may know of the event from their history
Other holidays such as “Groundhog Day” (February 2) are whimsically
observed, at least in the media. The day is associated with folklore
which has grown up in rural America. It is believed, by some, if the
groundhog, or woodchuck comes out of its hole in the ground and sees its
shadow on that day it will become frightened and jump back in. This
means there will be at least six more weeks of winter. If it doesn’t see
its shadow, it will not be afraid and spring will begin shortly.
Critics of the proliferation of holidays point an accusing finger at
greeting card manufacturers and other entrepreneurs. The critics say
that “Holiday X” is simply promoted to get people to buy their wares.
“Secretary’s Day”, or “Grandparents Day” might fall into this category.
Obviously, no effort has been made to be comprehensive in treating all
holidays that Americans would possibly celebrate. Only “major” holidays,
recognized if not celebrated by Americans in general, have been included
here. Each unit is introduced by a reading the passage about the
background of the American holiday or celebration. When relevant, a
speech, song, or poem pertaining to the holiday follows. There might be
a special feature about the holiday, such as regional or religious
factors which make the celebration different.
Other Widely Celebrated Observances, that usually don’t affect work
Groundhog Day February, 2
Lincoln’s Birthday February, 12
Valentine’s Day February, 14
Washington’s Birthday February, 22
St. Patrick’s Day March,17
April Fools’s Day April, 1
Earth Day April, 22 (since 1970)
Administrative Assistants’ Day Wednesday of the last full week of April
(that is, the Wednesday before the last Saturday in April) since 1955
Arbour Day the last Friday in April (since 1872)
Mothers’ Day second Sunday in May
Fathers’ Day third Sunday in June
Parents’ Day fourth Sunday in July
Grandparents’ Day Sunday after Labor Day
United Nations Day October, 24
Halloween October, 31
2.New Year’s Day
The beginning of the New Year has been welcomed on different dates
throughout history. Great Britain and its colonies in America adopted
the Gregorian calendar in 1752, in which January 1st was restored as New
Year’s Day. Ways of celebrating differ as well, according to customs and
religions of the world. People in Moslem societies, for example,
celebrate the New Year by wearing new clothes. Southeast Asians release
birds and turtles to assure themselves good luck in the twelve months
ahead. Jewish people consider the day holy, and hold a religious
ceremony at a meal with special foods. Hindus of India leave shrines
next to their beds, so they can see beautiful objects at the start of
the New Year. Japanese prepare rice cakes at a social event the week
before the New Year.
Whatever the custom, most of people feel the same sentiment. With a new
year, we can expect a new life. We wish each other good luck and promise
ourselves to do better in the following year.
In the United States, the federal holiday is January first, but
Americans begin celebrating on December 31. Sometimes people have
masquerade balls, where guests dress up in costumes and cover their
faces with masks. According to an old tradition, guests unmask at
At New Year’s Eve parties across the United States on December 31, many
guests watch television as part of the festivities. Most of the
television channels show Times Square in the heart of New York City. At
one minute before midnight, a lighted ball drops slowly from the top to
the bottom of a pole on one of the buildings. People count down at the
same time as the ball drops. When it reaches the bottom, the New Year
sign is lighted. People hug and kiss, and wish each other “Happy New
On January first, Americans visit friends, relatives and neighbours.
There is plenty to eat and drink when you just drop in to wish your
loved ones and friends the best for the year ahead. Many families and
friends watch television together enjoying the Tournament of Roses
parade preceding the Rose Bowl football game in Pasadena California. The
parade was started in 1887, when a zoologist who had seen one in France
suggested to the Valley Hunt Club in Pasadena, California that they
sponsor “an artistic celebration of the ripening of the oranges” at the
beginning of the year. At first the parade was a line of decorated
horse-drawn private carriages. Athletic events were held in the
afternoon, and in the evening, a ball where winners of the events of the
day and the most beautiful float were announced. In later years colleges
began to compete in football games on New Year’s Day, and these
gradually replaced other athletic competitions. The parade of floats
grew longer from year to year, and flower decorations grew more
The theme of the Tournament of Roses varies from year to year. Today the
parade is usually more than five miles long with thousands of
participants in the marching bands and on the floats. City officials
ride in the cars pulling the floats. A celebrity is chosen to be the
grand marshal, or official master of ceremonies. The queen of the
tournament rides on a special float which is always the most elaborate
one of the parade, being made from more than 250,000 flowers. Spectators
and participants alike enjoy the pageantry associated with the occasion.
Preparation for next year’s Tournament of Roses begins on January 2.
In the warmer regions all around the country there are other games whose
names are characteristic of the state. People watch the Orange Bowl game
in Florida, the Cotton Bowl in Texas, and the Sugar Bowl in Louisiana.
In most cultures, people promise to better themselves in the following
year. Americans have inherited the tradition and even write down their
New Year’s resolutions. Whatever the resolution, most of them are broken
or forgotten by February!
3.Martin Luther King’s day
“We will not resort to violence.
We will not degrade ourselves with hatred.
Love will not be returned with hate.”
It was December, 1955, and Martin Luther King, Jr. had just received his
doctorate degree in theology. He had moved to Montgomery, Alabama to
preaсh (проповедовать) at a Baptist church. He saw there, as in many
other southern states that African-Americans had to ride in the back of
public buses. Dr. King knew that this law violated (нарушал) the rights
of every African-American. He organized and led a boycott of the public
buses in the city of Montgomery. Any person, black or white, who was
against segregation (изоляции) refused to use public transportation.
Those people who boycotted were threatened (угрожали) or attacked by
other people, or even arrested or jailed (Заключены в тюрьму) by the
police. After 382 Days of boycotting the bus system, the Supreme Court
declared that the Alabama state segregation law was unconstitutional.
African-Americans were not only segregated on buses throughout the
south. Equal housing was denied to them, and seating in many hotels and
restaurants was refused.
One year later, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed. It was not the
first law of civil rights for Americans, but it was the most thorough
and effective. The act guaranteed equal rights in housing, public
facilities, voting and public schools. Everyone would have impartial
hearings and jury trials (беспристрастные испытания слушаний и жюри). A
civil rights commission would ensure that these laws were enforced. Dr.
Martin Luther King, Jr. and thousands of others now knew that they had
not struggled in vain (боролись напрасно). In the same year Dr. King won
the Nobel Peace Prize for leading non-violent demonstrations.
In 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated (убит) while he
was leading a workers’ strike in Memphis, Tennessee. White people and
black people who had worked so hard for peace and civil rights were
shocked and angry. The world grieved (горевал) the loss (потери) of this
man of peace.
The following is an excerpt from the speech entitled “I Have a Dream,”
delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the steps of the Lincoln
Memorial on August 28, 1963.
“I Have A Dream”
I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and
frustrations of the moment I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply
rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of
former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit
down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert
state sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be
transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a
nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by
the content of their character…
I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama … will be transformed
into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to
join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as
sisters and brothers.
And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let
freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.
Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.
Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado!
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous peaks of California!
But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!
вдова) of the civil rights leader. In 1970, she established the Martin
Luther King Jr. Memorial Centre in Atlanta, Georgia. This “living
memorial” consists of his boyhood home and the Ebenezer Baptist Church,
where King is buried.
On Monday, January 20, 1986, in cities and towns across the country
people celebrated the first official Martin Luther King Day, the only
federal holiday commemorating an African-American. A ceremony which took
place at an old railroad depot (депо) in Atlanta Georgia was especially
emotional. Hundreds had gathered to sing and to march. Many were the
same people who, in 1965, had marched for fifty miles between two cities
in the state of Alabama to protest segregation and discrimination of
All through the 1980’s, controversy surrounded the idea of a Martin
Luther King Day. Congressmen and citizens had petitioned the President
to make January 15, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, a federal
holiday. Others wanted to make the holiday on the day he died, while
some people did not want to have any holiday at all.
January 15 had been observed as a public holiday for many years in 27
states and Washington, D.C. Finally, in 1986, President Ronald Reagan
declared the third Monday in January a federal legal holiday
commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday.
Schools, offices and federal agencies are closed for the holiday. On
Monday there are quiet memorial services as well as elaborate ceremonies
in honour of Dr. King. On the preceding Sunday, ministers of all
religions give special sermons reminding everyone of Dr. King’s lifelong
work for peace. All weekend, popular radio stations play songs and
speeches that tell the history of the Civil Rights Movement. Television
channels broadcast special programs with filmed highlights of Dr. King’s
life and times.
Until the mid-1970s, the February 22 birthday of George Washington, hero
of the Revolutionary War and first president of the United States, was a
national holiday. In addition, the February 12 birthday of Abraham
Lincoln, the president during the Civil War (1861-1865), was a holiday
in most states.
In the 1970s, Congress declared that in order to honour all past
presidents of the United States, a single holiday, to be called
Presidents’ Day, would be observed on the third Monday in February. In
many states, however, the holiday continues to be known as George
Washington’s birthday. Until 1971, both February 12 and February 22 were
observed as federal public holidays to honour the birthdays of Abraham
Lincoln (February 12) and George Washington (February 22).
In 1971 President Richard Nixon proclaimed one single federal
public holiday, the Presidents’ Day, to be observed on the third Monday
of February, honouring all past president of the United States of
“…As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This
expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the
extent of the difference, is no democracy”
“If we do not make common cause to save the good old ship of the Union
on this voyage, nobody will have a chance to pilot her on another
Of all the presidents in the history of the United State, Abraham
Lincoln is probably the one that Americans remember the best and with
deepest affection. His childhood in the frontier of Indiana set the
course for his character and motivation later in life. He brought a new
honesty and integrity to the White House. He would always be remembered
as “honest Abe.” Most of all, he is associated with the final abolition
of slavery (уничтожение рабства). Lincoln became a virtual symbol of the
American dream whereby an ordinary person from humble beginnings could
reach the pinnacle (вершины) of society as president of the country.
Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809, in Kentucky, and spent
the first seven years of his life there. They were difficult years in
which Thomas Lincoln, Abe’s father tried to make a living as a carpenter
(плотник) and farmer. The Lincolns moved from farm to farm around
Kentucky, until 1816, when the family left to settle in Indiana. The
United States was still young, and the Midwest was a wild, unsettled
frontier (граница). They stopped in the middle of a forest in Spencer
County, Indiana. Neighbours were few and far away, and the family lived
in a three-sided shelter until Abe’s father cleared enough land and
built a log cabin(деревянная хижина).
Abe and his sister helped with the heavy daily tasks that came with
farming. He cleared the woods for farmland with his father, and became
so skilled at splitting logs that neighbours settling into the Indiana
territory paid him to split logs. At the time, he confessed that he did
not really like manual labour. He wrote later that although he was very
young, an axe was put into his hand, and he “was almost constantly
handling that most useful instrument.”
In his entire life, Abe was only able to go to school for a total of one
year. This lack of education only made him hungry for more knowledge.
His mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, influenced him in his quest for
learning. Although she was completely uneducated and could not read or
write, she encouraged her children to study by themselves. His beloved
mother died when he was nine years old, The family was greatly saddened,
and for a while lived almost in squalor. Two years later, however,
Thomas Lincoln remarried. Abe’s stepmother was also instrumental in
encouraging him to read. He even travelled to neighbouring farms and
counties to borrow books. He was often found reading next to a pile of
logs that he should have been splitting.
When he was older, Abe noticed that people loved to listen to stories.
He began telling tall tales in the general store where he worked.
Customers came and stayed when they knew he was there, just to hear him
talk. The family moved once again, this time to Illinois. He began
working in a store in the new capital of Springfield. His powers of
speech soon helped him enter a new arena, that of politics and law. In
1834 he was elected into the House of Representatives and began studying
to become a lawyer.
In 1839, he met his future wife Mary Todd. Coincidentally, she had been
Kentucky and her family had recently moved to Illinois. They had a long
and unstable courtship, because Abe was indecisive about marrying. They
finally exchanged their vows in Mary’s home in November 1842. Abraham
Lincoln began a long road to become the sixteenth president of the
United States. He practiced law all across the state for the next few
years, travelling far on horseback to different counties. I n 1847 he
was elected into Congress, but his opinions did not ensure him a long
stay there. He was vehemently against slavery and took stands on other
controversial issues. He was not elected for a second term, so he
returned to his law practice.
A few years later, slavery became a stronger issue, and more people were
willing to abolish it. Lincoln joined the Republicans, a new political
party that was opposed to slavery. The Republicans nominated him for the
U.S. Senate in 1858, and in his acceptance speech, he stated:
“A house divided against itself cannot stand… This government cannot
endure, permanently half-slave and half-free… I do not expect the
Union to be dissolved. I do not expect the house to fall but I do expect
it will cease to be divided. ”
Abraham Lincoln’s oratorical powers brought him to the attention of the
nation. He challenged the Democratic nominee to the Senate to a series
of debates. Using the simple language that he used to communicate with
people all his life, he defeated (разрушил) Douglas in the debates but
lost to him in the election.
Nominated by the Republican Party in 1860 as its candidate for the
Presidency of the United States, Lincoln won by a small margin. But with
his election, the country began the process of “dividing against
itself.” South Carolina had seceded from the Union before he was even
inaugurated. Other states followed to form the Confederate States of
America. The North and South were divided, and the Civil War began. The
war was not only over the abolition of slavery, but also the rights of
individual states to make their own choices on other issues.
The bloody Battle of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania was the largest battle
ever fought on American soil. On November 19, 1863, at a ceremony to
establish Gettysburg as a national monument, Lincoln delivered what was
to become one of the finest orations in American history, the Gettysburg
Address. Yet just after he delivered it, there was polite applause, and
reactions varied from indifference to disappointment. Edward Everett,
ex-governor of Massachusetts, was the main speaker, and his speech had
lasted for almost two hours. On his trip back to Washington, Lincoln
himself said of his speech: “It was a flat failure. I am distressed
about it. I ought to have prepared it with more care.” But Edward
Everett assured Lincoln saying: “I would be glad if I could flatter
myself that I came near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours
as you did in two minutes.”
Lincoln was elected to a second term in 1864. The South surrendered, and
the Civil War ended on April 9, 1865. The difficult task of national
reconstruction and reconciliation lay ahead, but Lincoln would not be
the person to lead the country through this difficult period.
On April 14, Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln attended a play at the Ford’s Theatre
in Washington, D.C. A few minutes past ten o’clock, an actor who
disagreed with Lincoln’s political opinions stepped into the
Presidential box and shot the President. He died the following morning.
“The father of his country”
George Washington, born on February 22, 1732 in Virginia, was a natural
leader, instrumental in creating a united nation out of a conglomeration
of struggling colonies and territories. The first president of the
United States of America is affectionately honoured as “the father of
Shortly after his twenty-second birthday, Washington served in the army
of King George III of England and was put in command of a troop of
soldiers. The French were settling on British soil and turning the local
Indians against the British colonists. Later, in the war against the
French and Indians, Washington commanded large troops of soldiers and
showed courage that inspired all his soldiers.
At this time, King George III of England dominated the thirteen colonies
along the east coast and much of the surrounding territories. Colonists
began to want their freedom, and live with a set of rules based on
democracy, not under the rule of a faraway king. The Boston Tea Party of
1773, a colonial rebellion (восстание) against taxes, helped to spark
the American Revolution. Washington led and encouraged his inexperienced
armies against the British forces for eight years until the colonies won
проблеск) the Revolutionary War general and their first President.
Washington was a reluctant (сопротивляющийся) leader. As he inspired his
soldiers through two wars, he saw himself serving his country, not
leading it. When he accepted two terms as president, he saw himself
serving God and his country in peacetime. He turned down a third term as
president, wishing only to retire (уйти в отставку) to his beautiful
family home, Mount Vernon.
Americans celebrated Washington’s Birthday while he was still alive.
They were grateful for a strong leader who had proven that democracy was
a feasible way to govern the growing country. And, while he was alive,
legends grew up about him. The most famous one says that he was so
strong; he threw a silver dollar across the Potomac River. Some
Americans argue that this is a true story. Parts of the Potomac River,
they say, were extremely narrow a few hundred years ago! Another story
which has never been proven, but Americans pass down to their children
as a lesson:
When George Washington was young, his father gave him a hatchet. He
tried to cut down a cherry tree with it. His father noticed the cuts on
the tree, and asked his son how they got there. “I cannot tell a lie,”
George said, “I did it with my hatchet.” Perhaps George Washington had
no hatchet, and perhaps there were no cherry trees where he grew up.
However, George Washington today represents honesty, and cherry pies
have become a favourite food associated with his birthday.
Various communities observe the holiday by staging pageants
(организацией парадов) and re-enactments of important milestones (этапы)
in Washington’s life. Also, the holiday has taken on another side, much
more commercial in nature. Many shopping malls and stores run
Presidents’ Day sales to attract shoppers who have the day off from work
The White House
While in office, George Washington held a contest for the best
architectural design of a “President’s Palace.” Among the competitors
was Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and an
His design was entered anonymously, sighed only with the initials “A.
Z.” It didn’t win. An Irish architect named James Hoban won $500, a
piece of land, and of course the honour of having his plans used in the
Americans called it the “President’s House” because the word “palace”
reminded them of the monarchy that they recently broke away from. The
official name was the “Executive Mansion” from 1818-1902. Today it is
called simply “The White House.” Some historians say that people began
calling it the White House because it was painted white after being
restored after it had been burned by the British in 1812. Another legend
is that George Washington named it after his wife’s house in the state
The first president never had the chance to stay there. Washington died
on December 14, 1799, one year before the White House was completed
during the Presidency of John Adams. In 1806, Thomas Jefferson had
another chance at designing the White House when he moved in as third
President. Much of the house and Jefferson’s additions were destroyed in
the War of 1812. When it was rebuilt, however, James Hoban supervised
the work. The White House was redecorated in 1881 and again in 1902 by
the current presidents, and each change reflected the style of the
times. It was completely renovated in 1949 when Harry S. Truman was
In 1960 when John Kennedy became President, his wife Jacqueline
redecorated the White House to display the beauty of American
furnishings and art. The gardens outside were beautified and enlarged.
Since then the presidents’ wives have continued to maintain their home
in a tasteful style.
It was 1866 and the United States was recovering from the long
and bloody Civil War between the North and the South. Surviving soldiers
came home, some with missing limbs (конечностями), and all with stories
to tell. Henry Welles, a drugstore owner in Waterloo, New York, heard
the stories and had an idea. He suggested that all the shops in town
close for one day to honour the soldiers who were killed in the Civil
War and were buried in the Waterloo cemetery. On the morning of May 5,
the townspeople placed flowers, wreaths and crosses on the graves of the
Northern soldiers in the cemetery. At about the same time, Retired Major
General Jonathan A. Logan planned another ceremony, this time for the
soldiers who survived the war. He led the veterans through town to the
cemetery to decorate their comrades’ (товарищей) graves with flags. It
was not a happy celebration, but a memorial. The townspeople called it
In Retired Major General Logan’s proclamation of Memorial Day, he
“The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with
flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in
defence of their country and during the late rebellion (восстание), and
whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard
in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but
posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services
and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.”
The two ceremonies were joined in 1868, and northern states commemorated
(отметили) the day on May 30. The southern states commemorated their war
dead on different days. Children read poems and sang civil war songs and
veterans came to school wearing their medals and uniforms to tell
students about the Civil War. Then the veterans marched through their
home towns followed by the townspeople to the cemetery. They decorated
graves and took photographs of soldiers next to American flags. Rifles
were shot in the air as a salute to the northern soldiers who had given
their lives to keep the United States together.
In 1882, the name was changed to Memorial Day and soldiers who had died
in previous wars were honoured as well. In the northern United States,
it was designated a public holiday. In 1971, along with other holidays,
President Richard Nixon declared Memorial Day a federal holiday on the
last Monday in May.
Cities all around the United States hold their own ceremonies on the
last Monday in May (some southern states continue to celebrate Memorial
Day on various days, i.e. June 3rd in Louisiana and Tennessee called
“Confederate Memorial Day” and on May 10th in North and South Carolina
to pay respect to the men and women who have died in wars or in the
service of their country).
Memorial Day is not limited to honour only those Americans from the
armed forces. It is also a day for personal remembrance. Families and
individuals honour the memories of their loved ones who have died.
Church services, visits to the cemetery, flowers on graves or even
silent tribute mark the day with dignity and solemnity (достоинство и
It is a day of reflection. However, to many Americans the day also
signals the beginning of summer with a three-day weekend to spend at the
beach, in the mountains or at home relaxing.
In Waterloo, New York, the origin has not been lost and in fact the
meaning has become even more special. President Lyndon Johnson
proclaimed Waterloo the birthplace of Memorial Day in 1966, 100 years
after the first commemoration (празднование). Every May 30, townspeople
still walk to the cemeteries and hold memorial services. They decorate
the graves with flags and flowers. Then they walk back to the park in
the middle of town. In the middle of the park, near a monument dedicated
to soldiers, sailors and marines (морские пехотинцы), the Gettysburg
address is read, followed by Retired Major General Logan’s Order # 11
designating Decoration Day. The village choirs sing patriotic songs. In
the evening, school children take part in a parade.
Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia is the nation’s largest national
cemetery. Not only are members of the armed forces buried here;
astronauts, explorers and other distinguished Americans have all been
honoured with a special place here. President John F. Kennedy is buried
in a spot overlooking Washington, D.C.
Here in the early hours of the Friday morning before Memorial Day,
soldiers of the Third U.S. infantry walk along the rows of headstones.
Each soldier stops at a headstone, reaches to a bundle of flags he is
carrying, pulls one out and pushes it into the ground. These soldiers
are part of a special regiment (полк). Most consider it a privilege to
place flags on the more than two hundred thousand graves of soldiers who
served in the wars or who died in them. “They have done their job,” said
one soldier, “and now it’s my turn to do mine.”
It is an equal honour to guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier all year.
There are actually four soldiers buried in this spot: the unknown
soldiers of the two World Wars, the Korean conflict, and the Vietnam
War. Each soldier represents all of those who gave their lives in the
modern wars. Soldiers from the Army’s Third Infantry guard the tomb
twenty-four hours a day. Wreath-laying ceremonies take place all through
the year and people from all over the world come to watch the changing
of the guard. On another hill of Arlington Cemetery there is a mass
grave of unidentified soldiers from the Civil War.
On Memorial Day, the President or Vice President of the United States
gives a speech and lays a wreath on the tombs. Members of the armed
forces shoot a rifle salute in the air. Veterans and families come to
lay their own wreaths and say prayers. There is a chance that one of the
soldiers buried here is a father, son, brother or friend.
“Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants
-words written on the Liberty Bell
Independence Day is regarded as the birthday of the United States as a
free and independent nation. Most Americans simply call it the “Fourth
of July,” on which date it always falls.
The holiday recalls the signing of the Declaration of Independence on
July 4, 1776. At that time, the people of the 13 British colonies
located along the eastern coast of what is now the United States were
involved in a war over what they considered unjust treatment by the king
and parliament in Britain. The war began in 1775. As the war continued,
the colonists realized that they were fighting not just for better
treatment; they were fighting for freedom from England’s rule. The
Declaration of Independence, signed by leaders from the colonies, stated
this clearly, and for the first time in an official document the
colonies were referred to as the United States of America.
By the middle of the 1700s, the 13 colonies that made up part of
England’s empire in the New World were finding it difficult to be ruled
by a king 3,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean. They were tired of the
taxes imposed upon them. But independence was a gradual (постепенный)
and painful process. The colonists could not forget that they were
British citizens and that they owed allegiance (были зависимы) to King
A “tea party” and a “Massacre” were two events that hurried destiny.
Along with general unrest these events united the colonists. In 1767 a
tea company in India, owned by England, was losing money. To save the
company, England levied a tax on tea sold in the colonies in 1773.
Partly as a joke, Samuel Adams and other Bostonians dressed up as
Indians and dumped a cargo (груз) of the India Company Tea into the
Massachusetts Bay (бухту) . King George III did not think it was funny,
nor did he lift the tax on tea. In the Boston harbour, British soldiers
were jeered and stoned by colonists who thought the soldiers had been
sent to watch them. The soldiers fired into the crowd and killed a few
citizens. The colonists exaggerated the number killed and called it a
Virginia took the first step toward independence by voting to set up a
committee to represent the colonies. This First Continental Congress met
in September of 1774. They drew up a list of grievances against the
crown which became the first draft of a document that would formally
separate the colonies from England. George Washington took command of
the Continental Army and began fighting the British in Massachusetts.
For the next eight years, colonists fought fervently (горячо) in the
In the meantime, a war of words was being waged in Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania. On July 2, 1776, the Second Continental Congress presented
and debated a second draft of the list of grievances, and John Hancock,
the president of the Second Continental Congress, was the first to sign.
The document, called the Declaration of Independence, was treasonous
against the crown and the fifty-six men who signed it were in danger of
Independence Day is celebrated on July 4 because that is the day when
the Continental Congress adopted the final draft of the Declaration of
Independence. From July 8, 1776, until the next month, the document was
read publicly and people celebrated whenever they heard it. The next
year, in Philadelphia, bells rang and ships fired guns, candles and
firecrackers were lighted. But the War of Independence dragged on until
1783, and in that year, Independence Day was made an official holiday.
1941 Congress declared 4th of July a federal holiday.
John Adams, a lawyer, the first Vice President and the Second President
of the United States, was one of the members of the Second Continental
Congress who signed the Declaration of Independence. He wrote to his
wife, “I believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as
the great anniversary festival… it ought to be celebrated by pomp and
parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and
illuminations from one end of this continent to the other…”
John Adams may have predicted the later Independence Day celebrations or
perhaps he started traditions with his words. Every July fourth,
Americans have a holiday from work. Communities have day-long picnics
with favourite foods like hot dogs, hamburgers, potato salad, baked
beans and all the fixings. The afternoon activities would not be
complete without lively music, a friendly baseball game, three-legged
races and pie-eating or watermelon-eating contests. Some cities have
parades with people dressed as the original founding fathers who march
in parades to the music of high school bands. At dusk, people in towns
and cities gather to watch the fireworks display. Wherever Americans are
around the globe, they will get together for a traditional 4th of July
The Declaration of Independence was first read in Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania. Today, at the Freedom Festival at Independence Hall,
costumed Americans re-enact historical scenes and read the Declaration
of Independence for the crowd. In Flagstaff, Arizona, American Indians
hold three-day celebrations around the Fourth of July, with a rodeo and
dancing. In Lititz, Pennsylvania, hundreds of candles that were made
during the year are lighted in the park at night and floated in the
water while a “Queen of Candles” is chosen. The ship U.S.S. John F.
Kennedy comes in full sail to Boston Harbour in Massachusetts on the
Fourth of July, and the Boston Pops Orchestra plays a musical concert of
patriotic songs as more than 150,000 people watch fireworks burst over
New Castle, Pennsylvania, is home to the Vitale Fireworks Display
Company, responsible for more than one thousand fireworks shows every
year. In 1922 Constantino Vitale brought his expertise at making
fireworks from Italy to the United States. He passed his secrets on to
his four sons, and since then the company has been making Americans
exclaim “ooohhh” and “aaahhhh” at the lighted colours in the sky on July
4 and other occasions. The sight and sound of a ringing bell represents
freedom to most Americans because of the Liberty Bell that rang in
Philadelphia when the new country was born.
In 1752 the new bell arrived safely from England, but at the first blow
from a hammer to test it, it cracked. Not wanting to delay by returning
the bell to England, the officials ordered bell founders in Philadelphia
to remedy the fault. Two times it was recast before it was finally
On July 8, 1776, the bell rang to mark the occasion of the adoption of
the Declaration of Independence. On April 16, 1783 it proudly announced
the proclamation of peace and the newly won independence of the United
States of America.
At every event of national importance, the Liberty Bell joined its
harmonious tones to the general acclaim: in 1789, the election of George
Washington; in 1797, the election of John Adams; in 1799, the death of
Washington; and in 1801, the election of Thomas Jefferson. On July 4,
1826, the bell was nearly three quarters of a century old, and the
nation whose birth it had helped to announce was now a lusty youngster
of 50. Joyous indeed was the bell’s sound on that occasion. Then, on
July 8, 1835, while tolling for the funeral procession of John Marshall,
Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and one of the signers of the
Declaration of Independence, the great bell cracked.
Fearing that the crack would eventually destroy the historic bell,
officials ordered it taken down from the tower. It was after this that
the Liberty Bell received its name. Since then, the bell has been on
display but has never rung. In fact, no one living knows the voice of
the Liberty Bell, for it has never spoken since 1835. The crack which
appeared on that occasion is prevented from widening by a mechanical
device, called a spider, installed inside the bell.
A few years ago the bell foundry in London that originally cast the
great bell made a friendly proposal – to ship the bell back to England,
melt it, and recast it at no cost to the United States. The keepers of
the bell considered the offer very seriously before giving an answer.
Then they decided that the cracked liberty bell is a cherished symbol of
America’s struggle for freedom. Just as a man’s facial lines and creases
are a visible sign of the stress and strain he has survived, so the
crack in the Liberty Bell serves to remind Americans that their
forefathers did not win liberty for their country and its people without
strain and stress – and even extensive fractures. Therefore, on behalf
of the American people, the officials thanked the London foundry for its
generous offer, but refused, adding: “We like the bell as it is, crack
and all. It is an important part of our heritage.”
“Labour creates all wealth”
This holiday, which always is observed on the first Monday of September
has been a federal holiday since 1894, but was observed in some places
before that day as a result of a campaign by an early organization of
workers called the Knights of Labour. Its purpose is to honour the
nation’s working people. In many cities the day is marked by parades of
working people representing the labour unions.
Eleven-year-old Peter McGuire sold papers on the street in New York
City. He shined shoes and cleaned stores and later ran errands. It was
1863 and his father, a poor Irish immigrant, had just enlisted to fight
in the Civil War. Peter had to help support his mother and six brothers
Many immigrants settled in New York City in the nineteenth century. They
found that living conditions were not as wonderful as they had dreamed.
Often there were six families crowded into a house made for one family.
Thousands of children had to go to work. Working conditions were even
worse. Immigrant men, women and children worked in factories for ten to
twelve hours a day, stopping only for a short time to eat. They came to
work even if they were tired or sick because if they didn’t, they might
be fired. Thousands of people were waiting to take their places.
When Peter was 17, he began an apprenticeship in a piano shop. This job
was better than his others, for he was learning a trade, but he still
worked long hours with low pay. At night he went to meetings and classes
in economics and social issues of the day. One of the main issues of
concern pertained to labour conditions. Workers were tired of long
hours, low pay and uncertain jobs. They spoke of organizing themselves
into a union of labourers to improve their working conditions. In the
spring of 1872, Peter McGuire and 100,000 workers went on strike and
marched through the streets, demanding a decrease in the long working
This event convinced Peter that an organized labour movement was
important for the future of workers’ rights. He spent the next year
speaking to crowds of workers and unemployed people, lobbying the city
government for jobs and relief money. It was not an easy road for Peter
McGuire. He became known as a “disturber of the public peace.” The city
government ignored his demands. Peter himself could not find a job in
his trade. He began to travel up and down the east coast to speak to
labourers about unionizing. In 1881, he moved to St. Louis, Missouri,
and began to organize carpenters there. He organized a convention of
carpenters in Chicago, and it was there that a national union of
carpenters was founded. He became General Secretary of the United
Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America.
The idea of organizing workers according to their trades spread around
the country. Factory workers, dock workers and toolmakers all began to
demand and get their rights to an eight-hour workday, a secure job and a
future in their trades. Peter McGuire and labourers in other cities
planned a holiday for workers on the first Monday in September, halfway
between Independence Day and Thanksgiving Day.
On September 5, 1882 the first Labour Day parade was held in New York
City. Twenty thousand workers marched in a parade up Broadway. They
carried banners that read “LABOUR CREATES ALL WEALTH,” and “EIGHT HOURS
FOR WORK, EIGHT HOURS FOR REST, EIGHT HOURS FOR RECREATION!” After the
parade there were picnics all around the city. Workers and celebrants
ate Irish stew, homemade bread and apple pie. At night, fireworks were
set off. Within the next few years, the idea spread from coast to coast,
and all states celebrated Labour Day. In 1894, Congress voted it a
Today we celebrate Labour Day with a little less fanfare on the first
Monday of September. Some cities have parades and community picnics.
Many politicians “kick off’ their political campaigns by holding rallies
on the holiday. Most Americans consider Labour Day the end of the
summer, and the beaches and other popular resort areas are packed with
people enjoying one last three-day weekend. For many students it marks
the opening of the school year.
Today we take for granted that the world is round. In the fifteenth
century, however, most people believed the world was flat. They thought
that monsters or a trip over the edge of the earth waited for anybody
who sailed outside the limits of known territory. People laughed at or
jailed others who dared think that the world was in the shape of a
There were educated persons, however, who reasoned that the world must
be round. An Italian named Christopher Columbus was bold (смелый) enough
to push this notion, and ask for money to explore the seas, and find
what he thought would be the other hemisphere of the earth. Portugal,
Italy and England refused to support such a venture.
At that time, spice merchants were looking for an easier route to Asia.
They travelled south past Africa, around the Cape of Good Hope, and
continued eastward. Christopher Columbus convinced Queen Isabella of
Spain that it would be easier to sail directly west and find the rich
treasures of India and Asia. A new route would be found, he said, and
possible new lands for Spain.
Columbus first asked Queen Isabella for help in 1486, but it was years
before she agreed… provided that he conquers some of the islands and
mainland for Spain. Columbus would also be given the title of “Admiral
of All the Ocean Seas,” and receive one-tenth of the riches that came
from any of his discoveries.
Finally, on August 3, 1492, he and ninety men set sail on the flagship
Santa Maria. Two other ships, the Nina and the Pinta, came with him.
They sailed west. Two long months went by. His men became tired and
sick, and threatened to turn the ships back. Columbus encouraged them,
certain that they would find the spice trail to the East. On October
11th, ten o’clock at night, Columbus saw a light. The Pinta kept
sailing, and reported that the light was, in fact, land. The next
morning at dawn they landed.
Christopher Columbus and his crew had expected to see people native to
India, or be taken to see the great leader Khan. They called the first
people they saw “Indians.” They had gone ashore in their best clothes,
knelt and praised God for arriving safely. From the “Indians” they
learned that the island was called Guanahani. Columbus christened it San
Salvador and claimed it immediately for Spain. When they landed on the
island that is now Cuba, they thought they were in Japan. After three
subsequent voyages, Columbus was still unenlightened. He died a rich and
famous man, but he never knew that he discovered lands that few people
had imagined were there.
Columbus had stopped at what are now the Caribbean Islands, either
Watling Island, Grand Turk Island, or Samana Cay. In 1926, Watling
Island was renamed San Salvador and acknowledged as the first land in
the New World. Recently, however, some people have begun to dispute the
claim. Three men from Miami, Florida have started a movement to
recognize Conception Island as the one that Columbus and his men first
sighted and landed on. The controversy has not yet been resolve.
Few celebrations marked the discovery until hundreds of years later. The
continent was not even named after Columbus, but an Italian explorer
named Amerigo Vespucci. In 1792, a ceremony was held in New York
honouring Columbus, and a monument was dedicated to him. Soon after
that, the city of Washington was officially named the District of
Columbia and became the capital of the United States. In 1892, a statue
of Columbus was raised at the beginning of Columbus Avenue in New York
City. At the Columbian Exposition held in Chicago that year, replicas of
Columbus’s three ships were displayed.
Americans might not have a Columbus Day if Christopher Columbus had not
been born in Italy. Out of pride for their native son, the Italian
population of New York City organized the first celebration of the
discovery of America on October 12, 1866. The next year, more Italian
Organizations in other cities held banquets, parades and dances on that
date. In 1869, when Italians of San Francisco celebrated October 12,
they called it Columbus Day.
In 1905, Colorado became the first state to observe a Columbus Day. Over
the next few decades other states followed. In 1937, then- President
Franklin Roosevelt proclaimed every October 12 as Columbus Day. Since
1971, it has been celebrated on the second Monday in October.
Although it is generally accepted that Christopher Columbus was the
first European to have discovered the New World of the Americas, there
is still some controversy over this claim. Some researchers and
proponents of other explorers attribute the first sightings to the early
Scandinavian Vikings or the voyages of Irish missionaries which predate
the Columbus visit in 1492. The controversy may never be fully resolved
to everyone’s satisfaction, but 1992 marked the 500th anniversary of the
Originally called Armistice Day, this holiday was established to honour
Americans who had served in World War I. It falls on November 11, the
day when that war ended in 1918, but it now honours veterans of all wars
in which the United States has fought.
Veterans’ organizations hold parades or other special ceremonies, and
the president customarily places a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknowns at
Arlington National Cemetery, across the Potomac River from Washington.
Armistice Day was primarily a day set aside to honour veterans of World
War I, but in 1954, after World War II had required the greatest
mobilization of soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen in the Nation’s
history; after American forces had fought aggression in Korea, the 83rd
Congress, at the urging of the veterans service organizations, amended
the Act of 1938 by striking out the word “Armistice” and inserting in
lieu thereof the word “Veterans”. With the approval of this legislation
on June 1, 1954, November 11th became a day to honour American veterans
of all wars. Later that same year, on October 8th, President Dwight D.
Eisenhower issued the first “Veterans Day Proclamation”.
A law passed in 1968 changed the national commemoration of Veterans Day
to the fourth Monday in October. It soon became apparent, however, that
November 11 was a date of historic significance to many Americans.
Therefore, in 1978 Congress returned the observance to its traditional
November 11, 1919 was set aside as Armistice Day in the United States,
to remember the sacrifices that men and women made during World War I in
order to ensure a lasting peace. On Armistice Day, soldiers who survived
the war marched in a parade through their home towns. Politicians and
veteran officers gave speeches and held ceremonies of thanks for the
peace they had won.
Veterans Day officially received its name in the United States in 1926
through a Congressional resolution. It became a national holiday 12
years later. Congress voted Armistice Day a federal holiday in 1938, 20
years after the war ended. But Americans realized that the previous war
would not be the last one. World War II began the following year and
nations great and small again participated in a bloody struggle. After
the Second World War, Armistice Day continued to be observed on November
After the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War, the emphasis on
holiday activities has shifted. There are fewer military parades and
ceremonies. Veterans gather at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in
Washington, to place gifts and stand quiet vigil at the names of their
friends and relatives who fell in the Vietnam War. Families who have
lost sons and daughters in wars turn their thoughts more toward peace
and the avoidance of future wars.
Veterans of military service have organized support groups such as the
American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars. On Veterans’ Day and
Memorial Day, these groups raise funds for their charitable activities
by selling paper poppies made by disabled veterans. This bright red
wildflower became a symbol of World War I after a bloody battle in a
field of poppies called Flanders Field in Belgium.
The Pilgrims, who celebrated the first thanksgiving in America, were
fleeing religious persecution in their native England. In 1609 a group
of Pilgrims left England for the religious freedom in Holland where they
lived and prospered. After a few years their children were speaking
Dutch and had become attached to the Dutch way of life. This worried the
Pilgrims. They considered the Dutch frivolous and their ideas a threat
to their children’s education and morality.
So they decided to leave Holland and travel to the New World. Their
trip was financed by a group of English investors, the Merchant
Adventurers. It was agreed that the Pilgrims would be given passage and
supplies in exchange for their working for their backers for 7 years.
On Sept. 6, 1620 the Pilgrims set sail for the New World on a ship
called the Mayflower. They sailed from Plymouth, England and aboard were
44 Pilgrims, who called themselves the “Saints”, and 66 others, whom the
Pilgrims called the “Strangers.”
The long trip was cold and damp and took 65 days. Since there was the
danger of fire on the wooden ship, the food had to be eaten cold. Many
passengers became sick and one person died by the time land was sighted
on November 10th.
The long trip led to many disagreements between the “Saints” and the
“Strangers”. After land was sighted a meeting was held and an agreement
was worked out, called the Mayflower Compact, which guaranteed equality
and unified the two groups. They joined together and named themselves
Although they had first sighted land off Cape Cod they did not settle
until they arrived at Plymouth, which had been named by Captain John
Smith in 1614. It was there that the Pilgrims decide to settle. Plymouth
offered an excellent harbour. A large brook offered a resource for fish.
The Pilgrims biggest concern was attack by the local Native American
Indians. But the Patuxets were a peaceful group and did not prove to be
The first winter was devastating to the Pilgrims. The cold, snow and
sleet were exceptionally heavy, interfering with the workers as they
tried to construct their settlement. March brought warmer weather and
the health of the Pilgrims improved, but many had died during the long
winter. Of the 110 Pilgrims and crew who left England, less than 50
survived the first winter.
On March 16, 1621, what was to become an important event took place, an
Indian brave walked into the Plymouth settlement. The Pilgrims were
frightened until the Indian called out “Welcome” (in English!).
His name was Samoset and he was an Abnaki Indian. He had learned
English from the captains of fishing boats that had sailed off the
coast. After staying the night Samoset left the next day. He soon
returned with another Indian named Squanto who spoke better English than
Samoset. Squanto told the Pilgrims of his voyages across the ocean and
his visits to England and Spain. It was in England where he had learned
Squanto’s importance to the Pilgrims was enormous and it can be said
that they would not have survived without his help. It was Squanto who
taught the Pilgrims how to tap the maple trees for sap. He taught them
which plants were poisonous and which had medicinal powers. He taught
them how to plant the Indian corn by heaping the earth into low mounds
with several seeds and fish in each mound. The decaying fish fertilized
the corn. He also taught them to plant other crops with the corn.
The harvest in October was very successful and the Pilgrims found
themselves with enough food to put away for the winter. There was corn,
fruits and vegetables, fish to be packed in salt, and meat to be cured
over smoky fires.
The Pilgrims had much to celebrate, they had built homes in the
wilderness, they had raised enough crops to keep them alive during the
long coming winter, and they were at peace with their Indian neighbours.
They had beaten the odds and it was time to celebrate.
The Pilgrim Governor William Bradford proclaimed a day of thanksgiving
to be shared by all the colonists and the neighbouring Native Americans.
They invited Squanto and the other Indians to join them in their
celebration. Their chief, Massasoit, and 90 braves came to the
celebration which lasted for 3 days. They played games, ran races,
marched and played drums. The Indians demonstrated their skills with the
bow and arrow and the Pilgrims demonstrated their musket skills. Exactly
when the festival took place is uncertain, but it is believed the
celebration took place in mid-October.
The Algonkian tribes held six thanksgiving festivals
during the year. The beginning of the Algonkian year was marked by the
Maple Dance which gave thanks to the Creator for the maple tree and its
syrup. This ceremony occurred when the weather was warm enough for the
sap to run in the maple trees, sometimes as early as February. Second
was the planting feast, where the seeds were blessed. The strawberry
festival was next, celebrating the first fruits of the season. Summer
brought the green corn festival to give thanks for the ripening corn. In
late fall, the harvest festival gave thanks for the food they had grown.
Mid-winter was the last ceremony of the old year. When the Indians sat
down to the “first Thanksgiving” with the Pilgrims, it was really the
fifth thanksgiving of the year for them!
The following year the Pilgrims harvest was not as
bountiful, as they were still unused to growing the corn. During the
year they had also shared their stored food with newcomers and the
Pilgrims ran short of food.
in the fields. Governor Bradford ordered a day of fasting and prayer,
and it was soon thereafter that the rain came. To celebrate – November
29th of that year was proclaimed a day of thanksgiving. This date is
believed to be the real true beginning of the present day Thanksgiving
It would be very good to say that this friendship lasted
a long time; but, unfortunately, that was not to be. More English people
came to America, and they were not in need of help from the Indians
as were the original Pilgrims. Many of the newcomers forgot the help the
Indians had given them. Mistrust started to grow and the friendship
weakened. The Pilgrims started telling their Indian neighbours that
their Indian religion and Indian customs were wrong. The Pilgrims
displayed intolerance toward the Indian religion similar to the
intolerance displayed toward the less popular religions in Europe. The
relationship deteriorated and within a few years the children of the
people who ate together at the first Thanksgiving were killing one
another in what came to be called King Phillip’s War.
It is sad to think that this happened, but it is important
to understand all of the story and not just the happy part. Today the
town of Plymouth Rock has a Thanksgiving ceremony each year in
remembrance of the first Thanksgiving
The custom of an annually celebrated thanksgiving, held after the
harvest, continued through the years. During the American Revolution
(late 1770’s) a day of national thanksgiving was suggested by the
In 1817 New York State had adopted Thanksgiving Day as an annual
custom. By the middle of the 19th century many other states also
celebrated a Thanksgiving Day. In 1863 President Abraham Lincoln
appointed a national day of thanksgiving. Since then each president has
issued a Thanksgiving Day proclamation, usually designating the fourth
Thursday of each November as the holiday.
Thanksgiving was proclaimed a national day of observance by Congress in
1941. Nowadays it is a family holiday. The traditional feast consists of
turkey with a stuffing. It is served by sweet potatoes, squash and
pumpkin pie. Apple cider is a drink of the day. Football is the most
popular game on this day. Macy’s department store holds a parade in New
York city. At the end Santa Claus comes and it symbolizes the coming of
T for time to be together, turkey, talk, and tangy weather.
H for harvest stored away, home, and hearth, and holiday.
A for autumn’s frosty art, and abundance in the heart.
N for neighbours and October, nice things, new things to remember.
K for kitchen, kettles’ croon, and kith and kin expected soon.
S for sizzles, sights, and sounds, and something special that abounds.
Americans did not invent Thanksgiving. It began in Canada. Frobisher’s
celebration in 1578 was 43 years before the pilgrims gave thanks in 1621
for the bounty that ended a year of hardships and death. Abraham Lincoln
established the date for the US as the last Thursday in November. In
1941, US Congress set the National Holiday as the fourth Thursday in
Frobisher and early colonists, giving thanks for safe passage, as well
as pilgrim celebrations in the US that began the traditions of turkeys,
pumpkin pies, and the gathering of family and friends.
There are three traditions behind Canadian Thanksgiving Day.
Long ago, before the first Europeans arrived in North America, the
farmers in Europe held celebrations at harvest time. To give thanks for
their good fortune and the abundance of food, the farm workers filled a
curved goat’s horn with fruit and grain. This symbol was called a
cornucopia or horn of plenty. When they came to Canada they brought this
tradition with them.
In the year 1578, the English navigator Martin Frobisher held a formal
ceremony, in what is now called Newfoundland, to give thanks for
surviving the long journey. He was later knighted and had an inlet of
the Atlantic Ocean in northern Canada named after him – Frobisher Bay.
Other settlers arrived and continued these ceremonies.
The third came in the year 1621, in what is now the United States, when
the Pilgrims celebrated their harvest in the New World. The Pilgrims
were English colonists who had founded a permanent European settlement
at Plymouth Massachusetts. By the 1750’s, this joyous celebration was
brought to Nova Scotia by American settlers from the south.
At the same time, French settlers, having crossed the ocean and arrived
in Canada with explorer Samuel de Champlain, also held huge feasts of
thanks. They even formed “The Order of Good Cheer” and gladly shared
their food with their Indian neighbours.
After the Seven Year’s War ended in 1763, the citizens of Halifax held a
special day of Thanksgiving.
The Americans who remained faithful to the government in England were
known as Loyalists. At the time of the American revolution, they moved
to canada and spread the Thanksgiving celebration to other parts of the
country. many of the new English settlers from Great Britain were also
used to having a harvest celebration in their churches every autumn.
Eventually in 1879, Parliament declared November 6th a day of
Thanksgiving and a national holiday. Over the years many dates were used
for Thanksgiving, the most popular was the 3rd Monday in October. After
World War I, both Armistice Day and Thanksgiving were celebrated on the
Monday of the week in which November 11th occurred. Ten years later, in
1931, the two days became separate holidays and Armistice Day was
renamed Remembrance Day. Finally, on January 31st, 1957, Parliament
Now, more than ever, we’re reminded to treasure our families,
communities, and the institutions that raise our spirits, help the less
fortunate, and express our passions. As we move forward, join us in a
new tradition. This year, during the Thanksgiving holiday, as you come
together for family, friendship, food and fellowship, celebrate Giving
Make a Giving Day commitment to support your favorite cause with a gift
of time or money
Express your values, compassion, and passions with your loved ones by
sharing your Giving Day commitment at Thanksgiving dinner
Build a new tradition by encouraging others to celebrate Giving Day
Christmas is a most important religious holiday for Christians, who
attend special church services to celebrate the birth of Jesus of
Nazareth. Since most Americans are Christian, the day is one on which
most businesses are closed and the greatest possible number of workers;
including government employees, have the day off. Many places even close
early on the day before.
Naturally Christians observe Christmas according to the traditions of
their particular church. Besides the strictly religious traditions,
however, other common Christmas practices are observed by people who are
not religious or who are not Christian. In this way, some Christmas
traditions have become American traditions.
Christmas is a joyful religious holiday when Christians celebrate the
birth of Jesus Christ. The Christmas story comes from the Bible. An
angel appeared to shepherds and told them that a Savior had been born to
Mary and Joseph in a stable in Bethlehem. Three Wise Men from the East
(the Magi) followed a wondrous star which led them to the baby Jesus to
whom they paid homage and presented gifts of gold, frankincense and
To people all over the world, Christmas is a season of giving and
receiving presents. In some European countries, Father Christmas, or
Saint Nicholas, comes into houses in the night and leaves gifts for the
children. Saint Nicholas is represented as a kindly man with a red cloak
and long white beard. Another character, the Norse God Odin, rode on a
magical flying horse across the sky in the winter to reward people with
gifts. These different legends passed across the ages to make the
present day Santa Claus.
Immigrant settlers brought Father Christmas to the United States. Father
Christmas’ name was gradually changed to Santa Claus, from the Dutch
name for Father Christmas, which is Sinter Claas. Although he has
origins in Norse and pre-Christian mythology, Santa Claus took shape in
the United States. Americans gave Santa Claus a white beard, dressed him
in a red suit and made him a cheery old gentleman with red cheeks and a
twinkle in his eye.
Most children believe that Santa Claus lives at the North Pole. All year
he lists the names of children, both those who have been good and those
who have been bad. He decides what presents to give to the good
children. He oversees the manufacturing and wrapping of the presents by
Santa Claus supposedly gets his list of toys from the millions of
children who write to him at the North Pole. Children also find Santa
Claus at shopping malls across the country. They sit on his lap and tell
him what they want for Christmas. Of course, their parents are probably
nearby listening in as well.
On December 24, Christmas Eve, Santa hitches his eight reindeer to a
sleigh and loads it with presents. The reindeer pull him and his sleigh
through the sky to deliver presents to children all around the world,
that is, if they had been good all year.
Several American towns maintain the spirit of Santa Claus. The New
England state of Connecticut has a Christmas village where “Santa” and
his elves give out gifts. In New York, a small town called the North
Pole was designed for Santa Claus. There is a post office, a church and
a blacksmith shop, to repair the shoes of the reindeer.
Santa Claus exists only in our imaginations. But he, Saint Nicholas, and
Father Christmas are spirits of giving. Christmas has been associated
with gift giving since the Wise Men brought gifts to welcome the newborn
In anticipation of Santa’s visit, American children listen to their
parents read “The Night Before Christmas” before they go to bed on
Christmas Eve. Clement Moore wrote the poem in 1823.
Gift-giving is so common at Christmas time that for most stores it means
a sharp increase in sales. Stores, in fact, are full of shoppers from
Thanksgiving time in late November until the day before Christmas.
Another important custom of Christmas is to send and receive Christmas
cards, which are meant to help express the sentiment of the season. Some
are religious in nature; others are more secular. Americans begin
sending Christmas cards early in December to friends, acquaintances, and
co-workers. The post office advises customers to mail early in the
season and avoids the Christmas rush. Some people heed the advice;
others wait until the last minute and then are upset when their loved
ones have not received the greeting card or the present which they sent.
It seems that nearly every family has its own unique Christmas
observances. Many people are especially proud of Christmas traditions
brought to the United States from their countries of origin. The
wonderful diversity of foods, music and songs, prayers and stories all
make Christmas the holiday of holidays in the United States.
One custom in Texas and other parts of the American Southwest warmly
welcomes Christmas visitors. People cut designs out of the sides of
paper bags. Then they put enough sand in the bottom of the bag to hold a
candle. They line their walkways with the bags, and light the candles
after dark. Guests can easily find their friend’s walkway and follow the
candles up to the door.
In San Antonio, these “luminaries” are placed all along the River Walk,
a paved walkway alongside the San Antonio River, and an old custom
called “Las Posadas” is acted out.
“Las Posadas” represents the journey that Mary and Joseph took from
Nazareth to Jerusalem on a winter night 2000 years ago. Mary was about
to give birth to Jesus on their way to be counted in the census. The
inns were full and the only place they could find to rest was a barn.
Jesus was born there and was placed in a manger, or wooden bin for
Two young people are chosen to play the roles of Mary and Joseph. They
follow the luminaries up to a house and knock on the door. Joseph asks
the owner if they can stay there for the night. The owner refuses to let
them in, because the house is full. They knock at several more houses
until finally someone lets them come in to stay the night. The house
where the couple is invited was chosen before the celebration, and has a
doll in a manger, representing Jesus. When the couple arrives at the
house, they and the people who have followed sing Christmas carols and
eat the food provided by the “innkeeper.”
Going home for Christmas is a most cherished tradition of the holiday
season. No matter where you may be the rest of the year, being at “home”
with your family and friends for Christmas is “a must.” The Thanksgiving
and Christmas holidays are the busiest times of the year at airports,
train stations and bus depots. It seems that all America is on the move
and Americans are on their way to spend the holidays with their loved
This means that the house will be full of cousins, aunts and uncles that
might not see each other during the year. Everyone joins in to help in
the preparation of the festivities. Some family members go to choose a
Christmas tree to buy and bring home. Others decorate the house or wrap
presents. And of course, each household needs to make lots of food!
On Christmas Eve, there are evening church services. Attention is
focused on the nativity scene, while all join in singing carols. On
Christmas Day, there are other religious ceremonies at churches which
families attend before they make their rounds to visit friends and
The Christmas table looks much like a Thanksgiving feast of turkey or
ham, potatoes and pie. No Christmas is complete without lots of
desserts, and nothing symbolizes Christmas more than baked breads and
cookies hot from the oven. Many American traditional desserts, like
other Christmas customs, were started long ago in other parts of the
world. Guests bring English fruit cake or plum pudding as presents to
their hosts. “Crostoli,” fried bread spiced with orange peel, is made in
Italian-American communities. As an ending for the Christmas banquet,
Americans of German background eat “Pfeffernuesse,” bread full of sweet
spices. Doughnuts are a holiday offering in many Ukrainian-American
homes. Norwegian “Berlinerkranser” is a wreath-shaped cookie, dozens are
made, but few are left by Christmas morning! Candy doesn’t remain for
long, either, during the holiday weeks. Hard candies such as peppermint
candy canes and curly green and red ribbon candy are traditional gifts
At Christmas Eve gatherings adults drink eggnog, a drink made of cream,
milk, sugar, beaten eggs and brandy or rum. Plenty of eggnog or hot
cocoa is on hand in colder climates for carollers, or people who go from
house to house to sing Christmas carols to their neighbours.
Long ago, each child hung a stocking, or sock, over the fireplace. Santa
entered down the chimney and left candy and presents inside the socks
for the children. Today the tradition is carried on, but the socks are
now large red sock-shaped fabric bags still called stockings. Each child
can’t wait to open his or her eyes to see what Santa has left in the
Giving gifts is a Christmas tradition. However, in recent years, more
and more people have complained that Christmas is too commercialized
especially in large cities. Store owners begin advertising and
decorating very early in hopes of selling more goods. Children demand
more and more from Santa Claus because manufacturers and retailers
saturate television with advertising. Some people believe that the
origin of Christmas has been lost. Commemorating the birth of Jesus
Christ is the very reason for Christmas and should be central to the
Every year human interest newspaper articles remind readers of the
origin of Christmas. Shelters for the homeless and hungry appeal through
the newspaper to send money or gifts to those who are less fortunate.
Members of organization such as the Salvation Army dress up as Santa
Claus and stand on the sidewalks outside stores to collect money for
their own soup kitchens. City police forces supervise a “Toys for Tots”
donation, in which people contribute new or used toys for children in
hospitals and orphanages. Employees give a small part of their pay
checks as a donation to a favourite charity. Such groups and
organizations try to emphasize the true message of Christmas— to share
what you have with others
12.St. Valentine’s Day
Every February, across the country, candy, flowers, and gifts are
exchanged between loved ones, all in the name of St. Valentine. But who
is this mysterious saint and why do we celebrate this holiday?
The history of Valentine’s Day – and its patron saint – is shrouded in
mystery. But we do know that February has long been a month of romance.
St. Valentine’s Day, as we know it today, contains vestiges of both
Christian and ancient Roman tradition.
So, who was Saint Valentine and how did he become associated with this
ancient rite? Today, the Catholic church recognizes at least three
different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were
martyred. One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served
during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that
single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he
outlawed marriage for young men – his crop of potential soldiers.
Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and
continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When
Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to
death. Other stories suggest that Valentine may have been killed for
attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons where they were
often beaten and tortured.
According to one legend, Valentine actually sent the first ‘valentine’
greeting himself. While in prison, it is believed that Valentine fell in
love with a young girl – who may have been his jailor’s daughter – who
visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is alleged that
he wrote her a letter, which he signed ‘From your Valentine,’ an
expression that is still in use today. Although the truth behind the
Valentine legends is murky, the stories certainly emphasize his appeal
as a sympathetic, heroic, and, most importantly, romantic figure. It’s
no surprise that by the Middle Ages, Valentine was one of the most
In Great Britain, Valentine’s Day began to be popularly celebrated
around the seventeenth century. By the middle of the eighteenth century,
it was common for friends and lovers in all social classes to exchange
small tokens of affection or handwritten notes. By the end of the
century, printed cards began to replace written letters due to
improvements in printing technology. Ready-made cards were an easy way
for people to express their emotions in a time when direct expression of
one’s feelings was discouraged. Cheaper postage rates also contributed
to an increase in the popularity of sending Valentine’s Day greetings.
Americans probably began exchanging hand-made valentines in the early
1700s. In the 1840s, Esther A. Howland began to sell the first
mass-produced valentines in America.
According to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated one billion
valentine cards are sent each year, making Valentine’s Day the second
largest card-sending holiday of the year. (An estimated 2.6 billion
cards are sent for Christmas.) Approximately 85 percent of all
valentines are purchased by women. In addition to the United States,
Valentine’s Day is celebrated in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom,
France, and Australia.
13.April Fool’s Day
“The first of April is the day we remember
what we are the other 364 days of the year.”
American humorist Mark Twain
In sixteenth-century France, the start of the new year was observed on
April first. It was celebrated in much the same way as it is today with
parties and dancing into the late hours of the night. Then in 1562, Pope
Gregory introduced a new calendar for the Christian world, and the New
Year fell on January first. There were some people, however, who hadn’t
heard or didn’t believe the change in the date, so they continued to
celebrate New Year’s Day on April first. Others played tricks on them
and called them “April fools.” They sent them on a “fool’s errand” or
tried to make them believe that something false was true. In France
today, April first is called “Poisson d’Avril.” French children fool
their friends by taping a paper fish to their friends’ backs. When the
“young fool” discovers this trick, the prankster yells “Poisson
d’Avril!” (April Fish!)
Today Americans play small tricks on friends and strangers alike on the
first of April. One common trick on April Fool’s Day, or All Fool’s Day,
is pointing down to a friend’s shoe and saying, “Your shoelace is
untied.” Teachers in the nineteenth century used to say to pupils,
“Look! A flock of geese!” and point up. School children might tell a
classmate that school has been cancelled. Whatever the trick, if the
innocent victim falls for the joke the prankster yells, “April Fool! »
The “fools’ errands” we play on people are practical jokes. Putting salt
in the sugar bowl for the next person is not a nice trick to play on a
stranger. College students set their clocks an hour behind, so their
roommates show up to the wrong class – or not at all. Some practical
jokes are kept up the whole day before the victim realizes what day it
is. Most April Fool jokes are in good fun and not meant to harm anyone.
The cleverest April Fool joke is the one where everyone laughs,
especially the person upon whom the joke is played.
On October 31st, dozens of children dressed in costumes knock on their
neighbours’ doors and yell, “Trick or Treat” when the door opens.
Pirates and princesses, ghosts and popular heroes of the day all hold
bags open to catch the candy or other goodies that the neighbours drop
in. As they give each child a treat the neighbours exclaim over the
costumes and try to guess who is under the masks.
Since the 800’s November 1st is a religious holiday known as All Saints’
Day. The Mass that was said on this day was called All Hallowmas. The
evening before became known as All Hakkiw e’en, or Halloween. Like some
other American celebrations, its origins lie in both pre-Christian and
October 31st was the eve of the Celtic New Year. The Celts were the
ancestors of the present-day Irish, Welsh and Scottish people. On this
day ghosts walked and mingled with the living, or so the Celts thought.
The townspeople baked food all that day and when night fell they dressed
up and tried to resemble the souls of the dead. Hoping that the ghosts
would leave peacefully before midnight of the New Year the people
carried the food to the edge of town and left it for them.
Much later, when Christianity spread throughout Ireland and October 31
was no longer the last day of the year, Halloween became a celebration
mostly for children. “Ghosts” went from door to door asking for treats,
or else a trick would be played on the owners of the house. When
millions of Irish people immigrated to the United States in the 1840s
the tradition came with them.
Today’ school dances and neighbourhood parties called “block parties”
are popular among young and old alike. More and more adults celebrate
Halloween. They dress up like historical or political figures and go to
masquerade parties. In larger cities, costumed children and their
parents gather at shopping malls early in the evening. Stores and
businesses give parties with games and treats for the children.
Teenagers enjoy costume dances at their schools and the more outrageous
the costume the better!
Certain pranks such as soaping car windows and tipping over garbage cans
are expected.. But partying and pranks are not the only things that
Halloweeners enjoy doing. Some collect money to buy food and medicine
for needy children around the world.
At Halloween parties children play traditional games. One of the most
popular is called pin- the-tail-on-the-donkey: One child is blindfolded
and spun slowly so that he or she will become dizzy. Then the child must
find a paper donkey hanging on the wall and try to pin a tail onto the
back. Another game is bobbing for apples. One child at a time has to get
apples from a tub of water without using hands! How? By sinking his or
her face into the water and biting the apple!
Halloween originated as a celebration connected with evil spirits.
Witches flying on broomsticks with black cats, ghosts, goblins and
skeletons have all evolved as symbols of Halloween. They are popular
trick-or-treat costumes and decorations for greeting cards and windows.
Black is one of the traditional Halloween colours, probably because
Halloween festivals and traditions took place at night. In the weeks
before October 31, Americans decorate windows of houses and schools with
silhouettes of witches and black cats.
Pumpkins are also a symbol of Halloween. The pumpkin is an
orange-coloured squash, and orange has become the other traditional
Halloween colour. Carving pumpkins into jack- o’lanterns is a Halloween
custom also dating back to Ireland. A legend grew up about a man named
Jack who was so stingy that he was not allowed into heaven when he died,
because he was a miser. He couldn’t enter hell either because he had
played jokes on the devil. As a result, Jack had to walk the earth with
his lantern until Judgement Day. The Irish people carved scary faces out
of turnips, beets or potatoes representing “Jack of the Lantern,” or
Jack-o’lantern. When the Irish brought their customs to the United
States, they carved faces on pumpkins because in the autumn they were
more plentiful than turnips. Today jack-o’-lanterns in the windows of a
house on Halloween night let costumed children know that there are
goodies waiting if they knock and say “Trick or Treat!”
No Halloween party is complete without at least one scary story. Usually
one person talks in a low voice while everyone else crowds together on
the floor or around a fire. The following is a retelling of a tale told
in Britain and in North Carolina and Virginia.
“What Do You Come For?”
There was an old woman who lived all by herself, and she was very
lonely. Sitting in the kitchen one night, she said, “Oh, I wish I had
No sooner had she spoken than down the chimney tumbled two feet from
which the flesh had rotted. The old woman’s eyes bulged with terror.
Then two legs dropped to the hearth and attached themselves to the feet.
Then a body tumbled down, then two arms, and a man’s head.
As the old woman watched, the parts came together into a great, tall
man. The man danced around and around the room. Faster and faster he
went. Then he stopped, and he looked into her eyes.
“What do you come for? she asked in a small voice that shivered and
“What do I come for?” he said. “I come for YOU!”
The narrator shouts and jumps at the person near him!
The meaning of many different customs observed during Easter Sunday has
been buried with time. Their origins lie in pre-Christian religions and
Christianity. All in some way or another are a “salute to spring,”
marking re-birth. The white Easter lily has come to capture the glory of
the holiday. The word “Easter” is named after Eastre, the Anglo-Saxon
goddess of spring. A festival was held in her honour every year at the
People celebrate the holiday according to their beliefs and their
religious denominations. Christians commemorate Good Friday as the day
that Jesus Christ died and Easter Sunday as the day that He was
resurrected. Protestant settlers brought the custom of a sunrise
service, a religious gathering at dawn, to the United States.
Today on Easter Sunday children wake up to find that the Easter Bunny
has left them baskets of candy. He has also hidden the eggs that they
decorated earlier that week. Children hunt for the eggs all around the
house. Neighbourhoods and organizations hold Easter egg hunts, and the
child who finds the most eggs wins a prize.
The Easter Bunny is a rabbit-spirit. Long ago, he was called the” Easter
Hare.” Hares and rabbits have frequent multiple births so they became a
symbol of fertility. The custom of an Easter egg hunt began because
children believed that hares laid eggs in the grass. The Romans believed
that “All life comes from an egg.” Christians consider eggs to be “the
seed of life” and so they are symbolic of the resurrection of Jesus
Why we dye, or colour, and decorate eggs is not certain. In ancient
Egypt, Greece, Rome and Persia eggs were dyed for spring festivals. In
medieval Europe, beautifully decorated eggs were given as gifts.
In England, Germany and some other countries, children rolled eggs down
hills on Easter morning, a game which has been connected to the rolling
away of the rock from Jesus Christ’s tomb when he was resurrected.
British settlers brought this custom to the New World.
In the United States in the early nineteenth century, Dolly Madison, the
wife of the fourth American President, organized an egg roll in
Washington, D.C. She had been told that Egyptian children used to roll
eggs against the pyramids so she invited the children of Washington to
roll hard-boiled eggs down the hilly lawn of the new Capitol building!
The custom continued, except for the years during the Civil War. In
1880, the First Lady invited children to the White House for the Egg
Roll because officials had complained that they were ruining the Capitol
lawn. It has been held there ever since then, only cancelled during
times of war. The event has grown, and today Easter Monday is the only
day of the year when tourists are allowed to wander over the White House
lawn. The wife of the President sponsors it for the children of the
entire country. The egg rolling event is open to children twelve years
old and under. Adults are allowed only when accompanied by children!
Traditionally, many celebrants bought new clothes for Easter which they
wore to church. After church services, everyone went for a walk around
the town. This led to the American custom of Easter parades all over the
country. Perhaps the most famous is along Fifth Avenue in New York City.
Good Friday is a federal holiday in 16 states and many schools and
businesses throughout the U.S. are closed on this Friday.
Although the United States is young compared to other countries, its
culture and traditions are rich because of the contributions made by the
many groups of people who have come to its shores over the past two
centuries. Hundreds of regional holidays have originated from the
geography, climate and history of the different parts of the country.
Each state holds its own annual fair with local themes and music; and
some celebrate the day on which they joined the Union and became a
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