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Paul Sparks - Online English Lesson Plans, Lesson Material and Ideas for "Culture of English Speaking Countries Lessons" for Xiangtan Normal University...




American Holidays and Festivals

Source of information:

AMERICAN HOLIDAYS: On legal holidays, businesses, schools and government offices close. The only legal religious holiday is Christmas. Other religious holidays in America are Easter, a Christian holiday and Yom Kippur and Hanukah which are both Jewish holidays.

There are also many holidays that have nothing to do with religion. Some holidays like Memorial Day and Veterans Day are observed out of respect for those who died in battle during various wars.

In the United States, for the year 2002 there are 10 federal holidays set by law. Four are set by date (New Year's Day, Independence Day, Veterans Day, and Christmas Day). The other six are set by a day of the week and month: Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Birthday, Washington's Birthday, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, and Thanksgiving. All but the last are celebrated on Mondays to create three-day weekends for federal employees.

  • 1st January: New Year's Day - A federal holiday in the United States. In the early history of America, the new year was observed on March 25 until January 1st, 1753. This is because of the calendar in use then. In 1752, England and America adopted the Gregorian colander after deciding that the Julian colander was not accurate. Now in America the biggest block party of the year happens in New York City's Times Square. Millions of people gather every year to watch the Ball Drop as they count down to mid-night. At mid-night everyone yells HAPPY NEW YEAR. Some people shake hands while others kiss and embrace. The party in Times Square is always televised so the people who can't make to New York can join the celebration from their homes.

  • 6th January: Epiphany - (from Greek epiphanies, “manifestation”). Falls on the 12th day after Christmas and commemorates the manifestation of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, as represented by the Magi, the baptism of Jesus, and the miracle of the wine at the marriage feast at Cana. One of the three major Christian festivals, along with Christmas and Easter. Epiphany originally marked the beginning of the carnival season preceding Lent, and the evening preceding it is known as Twelfth Night.

  • Third Monday in January: Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Birthday - (The actual date of his birthday is Jan. 15th) A federal holiday observed on the third Monday in January that honors the late civil rights leader. It became a federal holiday in 1986. In 1999, New Hampshire became the last state to officially honor the holiday. Martin Luther King Junior believed that everyone should be treated equally regardless of their race or skin color. He fought against racial discrimination and prejudice saying that people should be judged according to their character. Martin Luther King Jr. was born a minister's son on January 15, 1929. He entered college when he was only 15 years old. While in college he studied black history, religion and theology. He received his doctor of philosophy degree from Boston University. After college he became a minister and married Coretta Scott. King became the pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church where he preached against segregation of black people. King's most famous speech, "I Have a Dream" was given in 1963 in front of Lincoln Memorial, in Washington, D.C. 250,000 gathered to hear his speech that day. Even though King believed in non-violent methods to achieve his goal of desegregation, his life ended very violently. King was killed by an assassin at the age of 39 years.

  • 2nd February: Groundhog Day - (A Groundhog is a type of animal) Groundhog day began as a Christian Holy Day. According to Western religious tradition, Groundhog Day, is more formally known as Candlemas Day. The earliest reference to groundhog day as it is recognized today is February, 1841. Groundhog Day has its roots in ancient times, when humans were enlightened enough to interpret the workings of the world be watching the animals around them. Alas, the groundhog was not a good choice, since actions rarely accurately predict the coming of spring. Feb 2nd marks the midway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. The date was a time of celebration for ancient Europeans since it meant the beginning of a new growing season. With the rise of Christianity, the pagan rites of February 2nd became Candlemas Day, celebrated with the blessing of candles and an odd belief that if a groundhog waking from its winter sleep cast a shadow, the winter would continue for six more weeks.

  • 12th February: Lincoln's Birthday - A holiday in many states, this day was first formally observed in Washington, DC, in 1866, when both houses of Congress gathered for a memorial address in tribute to the assassinated president.

  • Shrove Tuesday: (Date changes each year, normally about 2nd week in February) - Falls the day before Ash Wednesday and marks the end of the carnival season, which once began on Epiphany but is now usually celebrated the last three days before Lent. In France, the day is known as Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday), and Mardi Gras celebrations are also held in several American cities, particularly in New Orleans. The day is sometimes called Pancake Tuesday by the English because fats, which were prohibited during Lent, had to be used up.

  • Ash Wednesday: (Date changes, day after Shrove Tuesday) - The seventh Wednesday before Easter and the first day of Lent, which lasts 40 days. Having its origin sometime before A.D. 1000, it is a day of public penance and is marked in the Roman Catholic Church by the burning of the palms blessed on the previous year's Palm Sunday. With the ashes from the palms the priest then marks a cross with his thumb upon the forehead of each worshipper. The Anglican Church and a few Protestant groups in the United States also observe the day, but generally without the use of ashes.

  • 14th February: St. Valentine's Day - This day is the festival of two third-century martyrs, both named St. Valentine. It is not known why this day is associated with lovers. It may derive from an old pagan festival, or it may have been inspired by the belief that birds mate on this day.

  • Third Monday in February: Washington's Birthday / President's Day - (The actual date of his birthday is Feb. 22nd.) On the third Monday of February the United States honors all of its presidents; but, originally President's Day was set aside as a day to celebrate the birthdays of two great American presidents: Abraham Lincoln and George Washington. George Washington, who was born on February 22, 1732, was the first elected president of the United States.

  • 23rd February: Eid al-Adha, (Feast of Sacrifice) - commemorates Abraham's willingness to obey God by sacrificing his son. Lasting for three days, it concludes the annual Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca. Muslims worldwide sacrifice a lamb or other animal and distribute the meat to relatives or the needy.

  • 26th February: Purim (Feast of Lots) - A day of joy and feasting celebrating the deliverance of the Jews from a massacre planned by the Persian minister Haman. According to the Book of Esther, the Jewish queen Esther interceded with her husband, King Ahasuerus, to spare the life of her uncle, Mordecai, and Haman was hanged on the same gallows he had built for Mordecai. The holiday is marked by the reading of the Book of Esther (The Megillah), and by the exchange of gifts, donations to the poor, and the presentation of Purim plays.

  • 15th March: First Day of Muharram - The month of Muharram marks the beginning of the Islamic liturgical year. On the tenth day of the month, many Muslims may observe a day of fasting, known as Ashurah.

  • 17th March (Sunday): St. Patrick's Day - St. Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, has been honored in America since the first days of the nation. Perhaps the most notable part of the observance is the annual St. Patrick's Day parade in New York City. St. Patrick's Day is a religious holiday that has its root is Ireland. St. Patrick, whose real name was Maewyn Succat, was born sometime around the year 389. At the age of 16 Maewyn was kidnapped by Irish pirates that had landed near his home in England. During the years that he was in Ireland he worked and learned the Irish language and way of life. Having been born of Christian parents and raised in a Christian home, Maewyn was troubled because the Irish worshiped many gods and spirits. Eventually Maewyn was able to escape from Irish slavery. He went to France where he studied to become a priest. After 14 years of study he was sent back to Ireland as a Bishop by the Pope. Once back in Ireland, Maewyn, who by now had changed his name to Patrick, traveled all across the island and established churches and schools. According to legend, he also performed many miracles. One of the best known stories tells of Patrick driving all the snakes out of Ireland. In the United States, St. Patrick's day has come to represent the Irish culture and the contributions of its people to the United States. 

  • EASTER: Made up of many different days, see below. (Date changes each year - March / April) Easter is probably the most important Christian holiday on the calendar, it uses the egg, as a symbol. In the United States Easter is celebrated in several ways. On Easter morning children begin their day by looking for Easter eggs that the Easter bunny has hidden for them. Of course most children know that the eggs were hidden by their parents and not the Easter bunny. Many children help their parents color the Easter eggs knowing that soon they will be eating them as a snack on Easter day. Some cities have Easter egg hunts at the local parks. And of course, many people attend "Sunrise Services" at their local church. In fact, more people go to church on Easter Sunday than at any other time of the year. 

Palm Sunday - Observed the Sunday before Easter to commemorate the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.

First Day of Passover - (Pesach). The Feast of the Passover, also called the Feast of Unleavened Bread, commemorates the escape of the Jews from Egypt. As the Jews fled, they ate unleavened bread, and from that time the Jews have allowed no leavening in their houses during Passover, bread being replaced by matzoh.

Good Friday - The Friday before Easter, it commemorates the Crucifixion, which is retold during services from the Gospel according to St. John. A feature in Roman Catholic churches is the Liturgy of the Passion; there is no Consecration, the Host having been consecrated the previous day. The eating of hot-cross buns on this day is said to have started in England.

Easter Sunday - Observed in all Western Christian churches, Easter commemorates the Resurrection of Jesus. It is celebrated on the first Sunday after the full moon that occurs on or next after the vernal equinox (fixed at March 21) and is therefore celebrated between March 22 and April 25 inclusive. This date was fixed by the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325.

Orthodox Easter - (Pascha). The Orthodox church uses the same formula to calculate Easter as the Western church, but bases it on the traditional Julian calendar instead of the more contemporary Gregorian calendar. For this reason Orthodox Easter generally falls on a different date than the Western Christian Easter.

  • 9th May: Ascension Day - The Ascension of Jesus took place in the presence of His apostles 40 days after the Resurrection. It is traditionally thought to have occurred on Mount Olivet in Bethany.

  • Second Sunday in May: Mother's Day - West Virginia was the first state to recognize the holiday in 1910, and President Woodrow Wilson officially proclaimed Mother's Day a national holiday in 1914.

  • May: First Day of Shavuot (Hebrew Pentecost) - This festival, sometimes called the Feast of Weeks, or of Harvest, or of the First Fruits, falls 50 days after Passover and originally celebrated the end of the seven-week grain-harvesting season. In later tradition, it also celebrated the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai.

  • May: Pentecost (Whitsunday) - This day commemorates the descent of the Holy Ghost upon the apostles 50 days after the Resurrection. The sermon by the apostle Peter, which led to the baptism of 3,000 who professed belief, originated the ceremonies that have since been followed. “Whitsunday” is believed to have come from “white Sunday” when, among the English, white robes were worn by those baptized on the day.

  • May: (Twelfth day of the month in Islamic Calendar) - Mawlid an-Nabi - This holiday celebrates the birthday of Muhammad, the founder of Islam. It is fixed as the 12th day of the month of Rabi I in the Islamic calendar. 

  • 30th May: Memorial Day - It became a federal holiday in 1971, originating in 1868, when Union general John A. Logan designated a day in which the graves of Civil War soldiers would be decorated. Originally known as Decoration Day, the holiday was changed to Memorial Day within twenty years, becoming a holiday dedicated to the memory of all war dead. Memorial Day is a patriotic holiday in the United States. It is a legal holiday in most states but, until recently, it was not observed on the same date in all states. Northern states used to observe Memorial Day on May 30th, southern states observed the holiday on either April 26th, May 10th, or June 3rd. By federal law Memorial Day is now observed on May 30th in all states. Memorial Day is not a happy holiday. On Memorial Day we honor all the men and women who have died while serving their country in the Armed Forces.

  • 14th June: Flag Day - This day commemorates the adoption by the Continental Congress on June 14, 1777, of the Stars and Stripes as the U.S. flag. Although it is a legal holiday only in Pennsylvania, President Truman, on Aug. 3, 1949, signed a bill requesting the president to call for its observance each year by proclamation.

  • Third Sunday in June: Father's Day - The exact origin of the holiday is not clear, but it was first celebrated June 19, 1910, in Spokane, Washington. In 1966 President Lyndon Johnson signed a proclamation making Father's Day official

  • 4th July: Independence Day - The day of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, celebrated in all states and territories. The observance began in 1777 in Philadelphia. Independence Day is one of the most important of all American holidays. That's the day that we celebrate our independence from England, who once controlled all of the new colonies in the New World. In 1773, there were only 13 colonies in America. About 2 million people lived in those colonies and all 2 million people had to pay taxes to England. The people believed this was unjust because even though they paid taxes they had no say in the way they were being governed. One night when three English ships loaded with tea was dock in Boston Harbor, some Americans dressed like Indians went aboard the ships and threw all the tea into the water. This became known as "the Boston tea party." This was seen as an act of treason by the English Crown and England sent many soldiers to America. The English soldiers killed many Americans in what is now called the Boston Massacre. After the Boston Massacre, the colonists formed the Constitutional Congress which decided that America should declare its independence from England. Thomas Jefferson was appointed to write the Declaration of Independence which was signed July 4, 1776. But this did not guarantee America's freedom from England. Only after defeating England in a war that lasted for five years was America free from England's control. The British army surrendered to General Washington at Yorktown, Virginia in late 1781. The Treaty of Paris, which gave America its own sovereignty, was signed in 1783. 

  • First Monday in September: Labor Day - First first celebrated in New York in 1882 under the sponsorship of the Central Labor Union, following the suggestion of Peter J. McGuire, of the Knights of Labor, that the day be set aside in honor of labor.

  • 7th September: First Day of Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) - This day marks the beginning of the Jewish New Year and opens the Ten Days of Penitence, which close with Yom Kippur.

  • 16th September: Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) - This day marks the end of the Ten Days of Penitence that began with Rosh Hashanah. It is described in Leviticus as a “Sabbath of rest,” and synagogue services begin the preceding sundown, resume the following morning, and continue to sundown.

  • 21st September: First Day of Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles) - This festival, also known as the Feast of the Ingathering, originally celebrated the harvest. The name of the festival comes from the booths or tabernacles in which the Jews lived during the harvest, although one tradition traces it to the shelters used by the Jews in their wandering through the wilderness. During the festival many Jews build small huts in their backyards or on the roofs of their houses.

  • Last Sunday of September: Simchat Torah (Rejoicing of the Law) - This joyous holiday falls on the eighth day of Sukkot. It marks the end of the year's reading of the Torah (Five Books of Moses) in the synagogue every Saturday and the beginning of the new cycle of reading

  • First Monday in October: Columbus Day - A federal holiday,  it commemorates Christopher Columbus's landing in the New World in 1492. Quite likely the first celebration of Columbus Day was that organized in 1792.

  • 31st October: Halloween - Eve of All Saints' Day, formerly called All Hallows and Hallowmass. Halloween is traditionally associated in some countries with customs such as bonfires and the telling of ghost stories. The Celts, (that's the name of the people from Gaul and Great Britain) believed, dead spirits would try to possess living people. They also believed that witches, ghosts and other evil spirits roamed the land freely on this night. To scare away the spirits, people dressed in costumes, lit bonfires, placed jack-o-lanterns and other scary decorations in front of their homes. 

  • 1st November: All Saints' Day - A Roman Catholic and Anglican holiday celebrating all saints, known and unknown.

  • First Tuesday after first Monday in November: Election Day - (legal holiday in certain states). Since 1845, by act of Congress, the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November is the date for choosing presidential electors. State elections are also generally held on this day.

  • 6th November: First Day of Ramadan - This day marks the beginning of a month long fast that all Muslims must keep during the daylight hours. It commemorates the first revelation of the Qur'an.

  • 11th Novembe: Veterans Day (Armistice Day) - A federal holiday, was established in 1926 to commemorate the signing in 1918 of the armistice ending World War I. On June 1, 1954, the name was changed to Veterans Day to honor all men and women who have served America in its armed forces. Veteran's Day began as Armistice Day. This is the name given to November 11th by President Woodrow Wilson. He proclaimed Armistice Day a day to remember the tragedies of war. Britain and France observe this day to commemorate the end of World war I on November 11, 1918.

  • Fourth Thursday in November: Thanksgiving - Holiday by act of Congress (1941), The first Thanksgiving Day was celebrated in the year 1621. The Pilgrims who had come to the New World from England landed at Plymouth Rock, in what is now Massachusetts, on December 26, 1620 after being at sea for almost a year. When the Pilgrims landed in this country they discovered that the grain they brought from England wouldn't grow in the soil of their new home. The first winter was very hard for the early settlers and many people died because of sickness and starvation. The native Indians came to the aid of the Pilgrims and taught them how to plant crops of corn. They also taught the Pilgrims how to hunt and fish. Thanks to the help of the Indians, the settlers' crops in the fall of 1621 did well and there was a great harvest. The Pilgrims decided to have a feast as a way of giving thanks. The Pilgrims invited their friends, the Indians, to share this first Thanksgiving feast which lasted three days.

  • 30th November: First Day of Hanukkah (Festival of Lights) - This festival was instituted by Judas Maccabaeus in 165 B.C. to celebrate the purification of the Temple of Jerusalem, which had been desecrated three years earlier by Antiochus Epiphanies, who set up a pagan altar and offered sacrifices to Zeus Olympius. In Jewish homes, a light is lighted on each night of the eight-day festival.

  • First Sunday in December: First Sunday of Advent - Advent is the season in which the faithful must prepare themselves for the coming, or advent, of the Savior on Christmas. The four Sundays before Christmas are marked by special church services.

  • 25th December: Christmas - The most widely celebrated holiday of the Christian year, Christmas is observed as the anniversary of the birth of Jesus. Christmas customs are centuries old. The mistletoe, for example, comes from the Druids, who, in hanging the mistletoe, hoped for peace and good fortune. Use of such plants as holly comes from the ancient belief that such plants blossomed at Christmas. Comparatively recent is the Christmas tree, first set up in Germany in the 17th century. The use of candles on trees developed from the belief that candles appeared by miracle on the trees at Christmas. Christmas is the only holiday observed in America that is both a legal and a religious holiday. Even though it is a Christian holiday, Christmas is celebrated by almost everybody in the world regardless of religious affiliation.

  • As well as national holidays each state may also have their own holidays, as listed below:

State Holidays - Dates for 2002

Jan. 6, Three Kings' Day: P.R.

Jan. 8, Battle of New Orleans Day: La.

Jan. 11, De Hostos's Birthday: P.R.

Jan. 19, Robert E. Lee's Birthday: Ark., Fla., Ky., La., S.C.; (third Mon.): Ala., Miss.

Jan. 19, Confederate Heroes Day: Tex.

Jan. (third Mon.), Lee-Jackson-King Day: Va.

Jan. 30, F. D. Roosevelt's Birthday: Ky.

Feb. 15, Susan B. Anthony's Birthday: Fla., Minn.

March (first Tues.), Town Meeting Day: Vt.

March 2, Texas Independence Day: Tex.

March (first Mon.), Casimir Pulaski's Birthday: Ill.

March 17, Evacuation Day: Mass. (in Suffolk County)

March 20 (first day of spring), Youth Day: Okla.

March 22, Abolition Day: P.R.

March 25, Maryland Day: Md.

March 26, Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole Day: Hawaii

March (last Mon.), Seward's Day: Alaska

April 2, Pascua Florida Day: Fla.

April 13, Thomas Jefferson's Birthday: Ala., Okla.

April 16, De Diego's Birthday: P.R.

April (third Mon.), Patriots' Day: Maine, Mass.

April 21, San Jacinto Day: Tex.

April 22, Arbor Day: Nebr.

April 22, Oklahoma Day: Okla.

April 26, Confederate Memorial Day: Fla., Ga.

April (fourth Mon.), Fast Day: N.H.

April (last Mon.), Confederate Memorial Day: Ala., Miss.

May 1, Bird Day: Okla.

May 8, Truman Day: Mo.

May 11, Minnesota Day: Minn.

May 20, Mecklenburg Independence Day: N.C.

June (first Mon.), Jefferson Davis's Birthday: Ala., Miss.

June 3, Jefferson Davis's Birthday: Fla., S.C.

June 3, Confederate Memorial Day: Ky., La.

June 9, Senior Citizens Day: Okla.

June 11, King Kamehameha I Day: Hawaii

June 15, Separation Day: Del.

June 17, Bunker Hill Day: Mass. (in Suffolk County)

June 19, Emancipation Day: Tex.

June 20, West Virginia Day: W.Va.

July 17, Muńoz Rivera's Birthday: P.R.

July 24, Pioneer Day: Utah

July 25, Constitution Day: P.R.

July 27, Barbosa's Birthday: P.R.

Aug. (first Sun.), American Family Day: Ariz.

Aug. (first Mon.), Colorado Day: Colo.

Aug. (second Mon.), Victory Day: R.I.

Aug. 16, Bennington Battle Day: Vt.

Aug. (third Friday), Admission Day: Hawaii

Aug. 27, Lyndon B. Johnson's Birthday: Tex.

Aug. 30, Huey P. Long Day: La.

Sept. 9, Admission Day: Calif.

Sept. 12, Defenders' Day: Md.

Sept. 16, Cherokee Strip Day: Okla.

Sept. (first Sat. after full moon), Indian Day: Okla.

Oct. 10, Leif Eriksson Day: Minn.

Oct. 10, Oklahoma Historical Day: Okla.

Oct. 18, Alaska Day: Ala.

Oct. 31, Nevada Day: Nev.

Nov. 4, Will Rogers Day: Okla.

Nov. (week of the 16th), Oklahoma Heritage Week: Okla.

Nov. 19, Discovery Day: P.R.

Dec. 7, Delaware Day: Del.

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