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Americans’ holidays and celebrations

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THE MINISTRY OF EDUCATION AND RESEARCH

TECHNICAL COLLEGE TURDA

SPECIALIZATION:  MECATRONICS – ENGLISH

ENGLISH ATTESTATION PAPER

HOLIDAYS AND CELEBRATIONS IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

STUDENT:

I. ARGUMENT

The celebrations and festivities of human communities reflect their cultural richness, history’s impact over the daily life as well as the social unity of that particular community and that people are regarded as a nation. The American people’s history dates no longer than XVIIth century, but in spite of this, due to its multi ethnical origin, it possesses a high variety of events and occurrences which have concretized over time in the emergence of a mixed heritage consisting in celebrations and holidays which are widespread at national and federal level.

I consider an interesting thing tracking the setting up manner and the recalling of the events that imprinted upon a so ethnical diverse people conscience. Although the American nation consists from the companionship and living together of a large number of ethnic groups originating from all over the world, it is to be highly remarked its self-awareness and nation identity of this people and, in this way, it was succeeded in legally and officially establishing some celebrations and commemorations in all the American Federation states. This fact serves as a good and remarkable example for some world countries which even if they are of a majority formed from a prevailing lineage (having the same descent) they do not possesss such a unity conscience (sense) based upon a common history such as the American nation.

Due to its ethnical richness it looks like a normal aspect that some local communities may adopt and keep various traditions, customs and festivals coming from their origin countries. Hence, many times they have been integrated in the nations trend or adopted diverse characteristics and peculiarities of the prevailing ethnical group, that of the anglo-saxon descendents.

The major American communities, besides the anglo-saxon ones, the Spanish colonizers descendents and the recently South-American Spanish speaking emigrants, as well as the formerly African slaves descendents, which are now resulted in full and legally granted American citizens; they all had the most prominent contribution in the establishing of the present days national widespread holidays and celebrations.

It is generally admitted and certain that some of the United States’ traditions and festivities hold and are continuously possessing a major cultural impact and influence even at global level over a large variety of European and also non European countries (mostly in South America and African regions).

It is clear that the fourth of July is a world renowned celebration which extends far beyond American borders and the Halloween and Saint Valentine’s Day exercise an indisputable influence, which is not easy to neglect especially over the young generations by the fact that they impose themselves as traditions evoking authentic accepted universal symbols.

II. AMERICANS’ HOLIDAYS AND CELEBRATIONS

 

In every culture people 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 ten holidays are proclaimed per year by the federal government:

New Year's Day

Martin Luther King’s Day

Presidents' Day

Memorial Day

Independence Day

Labor Day

Columbus’ Day

Veterans' Day

Thanksgiving Day

Christmas Day

January 1st

third Monday in January

third Monday in February

last Monday in May

July 4th

first Monday in September

second Monday in October

second Monday in November

fourth Thursday in November

December 25

In 1971, the dates of many federal holidays were officially moved to the nearest Monday by Richard Nixon, then President. 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 Veterans' Day.

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 decisions.

  1. New Year's Day

Most of the celebrating of New Year's Day takes place the night before, when Americans gather in homes, restaurants or other public places to enjoy good food and to wish each other a happy and prosperous year ahead. Balloons and paper streamers, fire crackers and other noisemakers are all around at midnight when the old year passes away and the New Year arrives. Thousands throng to the Times Square celebration in New York to count down to the New Year - a celebration that's carried live on TV networks across the U.S.

'Happy New Year!' This greeting will be said and heard for at least the first couple of weeks as a new year gets under way. But the day celebrated as New Year's Day in modern America was not always January 1st.

The celebration of the New Year is the oldest of all holidays. It was first observed in ancient Babylon about 4000 years ago. In the years around 2000 BC, the Babylonian New Year began with the first New Moon (actually the first visible cresent) after the Vernal Equinox (first day of spring).

The beginning of spring is a logical time to start a new year. After all, it is the season of rebirth, of planting new crops and of blossoming. January 1st, on the other hand, has no astronomical or agricultural significance. It is purely arbitrary.

The Babylonian New Year celebration lasted for eleven days. Each day had its own particular mode of celebration, but it is safe to say that modern New Year's Eve festivities pale in comparison.

The Romans continued to observe the New Year in late March, but their calendar was continually tampered with by various emperors so that the calendar soon became out of synchronization with the sun.

In order to set the calendar right, the Roman senate, in 153 BC, declared January 1st to be the beginning of the New Year. But tampering continued until Julius Caesar, in 46 BC, established what has come to be known as the Julian Calendar. It again established January 1st as the New Year. But in order to synchronize the calendar with the sun, Caesar had to let the previous year drag on for 445 days.

2. Martin Luther King’s Day

Preaching non-violence, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke and campaigned tirelessly to rid the United States of traditions and laws that forced on black Americans the status of second-class citizens. Among these laws were those in some states which required black people to take back seats in buses or which obstructed voting by blacks.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, African Americans, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., used boycotts, marches and other forms of non-violent protest to demand equal treatment under the law and an to end racial prejudice. A high point of this civil rights movement came on August 28th, 1963, when more than 200,000 people of all races gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., to hear King say:

'I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveholders will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood . 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.'

Not long afterwards the U.S. Congress passed laws prohibiting discrimination in voting, education, employment, housing and public accommodations. 

The world was shocked when Dr. King was assassinated in 1968. Ever since, special memorial services have marked his birthday on January 15th. By vote of Congress, the third Monday of every January, beginning from 1986, is now a federal holiday in Dr. King's honour.

3. Presidents’ Day

Until the mid-1970s, February 22nd, the birthday of George Washington, hero of the Revolutionary War and first president of the United States, was a national holiday. In addition, February 12th the 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.

4. Memorial Day

This holiday, on the fourth Monday of every May, is a day on which Americans honour the fallen soldiers. Originally a day in which flags and flowers were placed on graves of soldiers who died in the American Civil War, it has become a day in which the dead of all wars are remembered the same way.   

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 to pay respect to the men and women who have died in wars or in the service of their country. In many communities, special ceremonies are held in cemeteries or at monuments for the war dead by veterans of military services. Some hold parades and others hold memorial services or special programs in churches, schools or other public meeting places.

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. 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.         

5. Independence Day

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 4th, 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.

It is a day of picnics and patriotic parades, a night of concerts and fireworks. The flying of the American flag (which also occurs on Memorial Day and other holidays) is widespread. On July 4th, 1976, the 200th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence was marked by grand festivals across the nation.

Independence Day 2001 commemorated the 225th anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Declaration of Independence.

6. Labor Day

This holiday, which is always 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 Labor. 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.    

 The celebration of Labor Day was first suggested by Peter J. McGuire, founder of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters. It was initiated in the U.S. in 1882 by the Knights of Labor, who held a large parade in New York City. In 1884 the group held a parade on the first Monday of September and passed a resolution to hold all future parades on that day and to designate the day as Labor Day. In March 1887, the first state law to declare the day a legal holiday was passed in Colorado, followed by New York, Massachusetts, and New Jersey. In 1894 the U.S. Congress made the day a legal holiday. Parades and speeches by labour leaders and political figures mark Labor Day’s celebrations.

Most Americans consider Labor Day the end of the summer, so 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.

7. Columbus Day

This day commemorates the Italian navigator Christopher Columbus' landing in the New World on October 12th, 1492. Most nations of the Americas observe this holiday on October 12th, but in the United States, annual observances take place on the second Monday in October. The major celebration of the day takes place in New York City, which holds a huge parade each year.

The first recorded celebration of Columbus Day in the United States took place on October 12th, 1792. Organized by The Society of St. Tammany, also known as the Columbian Order, it commemorated the 300th anniversary of Columbus's landing.  

The 400th anniversary of the event, however, inspired the first official Columbus Day holiday in the United States. In 1892, President Benjamin Harrison issued a proclamation urging Americans to mark the day. The public responded enthusiastically, organizing school programs, plays, and community festivities across the country. Columbus and the Discovery of America of Imre Kiralfy is a 'grand dramatic, operatic and ballet spectacle' and is placed among the more elaborate tributes created for this commemoration. The World's Columbian Exposition, by far the most ambitious event planned for the celebration, opened in Chicago the summer of 1893.

8. Veteran’s Day

Originally called Armistice Day, this holiday was established to honour Americans who had served in World War I. It falls on 11th November, 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, D.C.  

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 (Public Law 380) on 1st June 1954, 11th November became a day to honour American veterans of all wars.  Later that same year, on 8th October, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued the first 'Veterans Day Proclamation'.

9. Thanksgiving  

Thanksgiving Day is the fourth Thursday in November, but many Americans take a day of vacation on the following Friday to make a four-day weekend, during which they may travel long distances to visit family and friends.

The holiday dates back to 1621, the year after the Puritans arrived in Massachusetts, determined to practice their dissenting religion without interference. After a rough winter, in which about half of them died, they turned for help to neighbouring Indians, who taught them how to plant corn and other crops. The next fall's bountiful harvest inspired the Pilgrims to give thanks by holding a feast.

The Thanksgiving feast became a national tradition, not only because so many other Americans have found prosperity but also because the Pilgrims' sacrifices for their freedom still captivate the imagination.  

To this day, Thanksgiving dinner almost always includes some of the foods served at the first feast: roast turkey, cranberry sauce, potatoes and pumpkin pie. Before the meal begins, families or friends usually pause to give thanks for their blessings, including the joy of being united for the occasion.

The American Thanksgiving holiday began as a feast of thanksgiving in the early days of the American colonies almost four hundred years ago.

In 1620, a boat filled with more than one hundred people sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to settle in the New World. This religious group had begun to question the beliefs of the Church of England and they wanted to separate from it. The Pilgrims settled in what is now the state of Massachusetts. Their first winter in the New World was difficult. They had arrived too late to grow many crops and without fresh food, half the colony died from disease. The following spring the Iroquois Indians taught them how to grow corn (maize), a new food for the colonists. They showed them other crops to grow in the unfamiliar soil and how to hunt and fish.

       In the autumn of 1621, bountiful crops of corn, barley, beans and pumpkins were harvested. The colonists had much to be thankful for, so a feast was planned. They invited the local Indian chief and 90 Indians. The Indians brought deer to roast with the turkeys and other wild game offered by the colonists. The colonists had learned how to cook cranberries and different kinds of corn and squash dishes from the Indians. To this first Thanksgiving, the Indians had even brought popcorn.

        In following years, many of the original colonists celebrated the autumn harvest with a feast of thanks. After the United States became an independent country, Congress recommended one yearly day of thanksgiving for the whole nation to celebrate. George Washington suggested the date November 26th as Thanksgiving Day. Then in 1863, at the end of a long and bloody civil war, Abraham Lincoln asked all Americans to set aside the last Thursday in November as a day of thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving falls on the fourth Thursday of November, a different date every year. The President must proclaim that date as the official celebration.

In 1939 President Franklin D. Roosevelt set it one week earlier. He wanted to help business by lengthening the shopping period before Christmas. Congress ruled that after 1941 the 4th Thursday in November would be a federal holiday proclaimed by the President each year.

Symbols of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a time for tradition and sharing. Even if they live far away, family members gather for a reunion at the house of an older relative. All give thanks together for the good things that they have. In this spirit of sharing, civic groups and charitable organizations offer a traditional meal to those in need, particularly the homeless. On most tables throughout the United States, foods eaten at the first thanksgiving have become traditional.

Turkey, corn (or maize), pumpkins and cranberry sauce are symbols which represent the first Thanksgiving. Now all of these symbols are drawn on holiday decorations and greeting cards. The use of corn meant the survival of the colonies. 'Indian corn' as a table or door decoration represents the harvest and the fall season.

Sweet-sour cranberry sauce or cranberry jelly was on the first Thanksgiving table and is still served today. The cranberry is a small, sour berry. It grows in bogs or muddy areas, in Massachusetts and other New England states. The Indians used the fruit to treat infections. They used the juice to dye their rugs and blankets. They taught the colonists how to cook the berries with sweetener and water to make a sauce. The Indians called it 'ibimi' which means 'bitter berry.' When the colonists saw it, they named it 'crane-berry' because the flowers of the berry bent the stalk over and it resembled the long-necked bird called a crane. The berries are still grown in New England. Very few people know, however, that before the berries are put in bags to be sent to the rest of the country, each individual berry must bounce at least four inches high to make sure they are not too ripe.

In 1988, a Thanksgiving ceremony of a different kind took place at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. More than four thousand people gathered on Thanksgiving night. Among them were Native Americans representing tribes from all over the country and descendants of people whose ancestors had migrated to the New World. The ceremony was a public acknowledgment of the Indians' role in the first Thanksgiving, 350 years ago. Until recently most schoolchildren believed that the Pilgrims cooked the entire Thanksgiving feast and offered it to the Indians. In fact, the feast was planned to thank the Indians for teaching them how to cook those foods. Without the Indians, the first settlers would not have survived.

10. Christmas

Christmas is a most important religious holy day for Christians, who attend special church services to celebrate the birth of Jesus from 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.

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. This situation has caused many religious people to complain that the religious meaning of Christmas is being subverted, that Christmas has become 'commercial'. Despite the criticism, Christmas shopping is a major activity of many Americans in the month of December. Gifts are given to children, members of the family and close friends. They are given to people who have done favors to others or who work for them. Some people bake cookies or make candies or other special food treats for friends and neighbours. Many businesses give their workers a Christmas 'bonus' - gifts of extra money - to show appreciation for their work. Christmas is also a time when most Americans show great generosity to other less fortunate than them. They send money to hospitals or orphanages or contribute to funds that help the poor.

Most Americans send greeting cards to their friends and family at Christmas time. Some people who are friends or relatives and live great distances from each other may not be much in contact with each other during year, but will usually exchange greeting cards and often a Christmas letter telling their family news.

The decorating of homes for Christmas is very common. Most American who observe Christmas have a Christmas tree in their homes. This may be a real evergreen tree or an artificial one. In either case, the tree is decorated and decorated with small lights and ornaments. Other decorations such as lights and wreaths of evergreen and signs wishing a 'Merry Christmas' can be found inside and outside of many homes.

The tradition of Christmas carols hails back as far as the thirteenth century, although carols were originally communal songs sung during celebrations like harvest tide as well as Christmas. It was only later that carols began to be sung in churches and to be specifically associated with Christmas.

The tradition of singing carols can be traced back to the monk St. Francis of Assisi. He introduced the singing of carols in church ceremonies. Today, each country has its own traditions in connection with Christmas carols. In many places, people walk from house to house and sing at Christmas time; in other places, Christmas carols are sung in churches.

Traditionally, carols have often been based on medieval chord patterns and it is this that gives them their uniquely characteristic musical sound. Some carols like 'Personent hodie' and 'Angels from the Realms of Glory' can be traced directly back to the Middle Ages and are among the oldest musical compositions still regularly sung.

Popular Christmas carols symbolize everything that Christmas stands for: they gather the family, bring joy, spread the word about Christmas and make everyone feel the Christmas spirit. Try to hum the melody of “Jingle Bells” and most people in the northern hemisphere will immediately imagine seeing snowflakes, angels and Christmas bells.

III. ETHNIC AND RELIGIOUS HOLIDAYS

The United States is a nation of many religions and ethnic groups. Many of these have feast days, holy days or special customs related to their religion or to their nation of origin.
People of both the Jewish and Muslim faiths, for example, observe all of their traditional holy days, with employers showing consideration by allowing them to take days off so they can observe their traditions.   

Easter, which falls on a spring Sunday that varies from year to year, celebrates the Christian belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. For Christians, Easter is a day of religious services and the gathering of family. As a part of Easter traditions in the US, sunrise services are held and the prime motive is to include various Christian religious groups in this event. Painting the Easter eggs and then conducting Easter egg hunt games for the kids is what most American parents do on the Easter week.

Many Americans follow old traditions of coloring hard-boiled eggs and giving children baskets of candy. On the next day, Easter Monday, the president of the United States holds an annual Easter egg hunt on the White House lawn for young children.

Easter is a major religious festival of Christians that is celebrated in a grand manner with a big party time celebration. Every nation has its own way of celebrating a particular festivity. Every country has some peculiar traditions and customs. For example it is the tradition of America to conduct special Easter parades, where men and women flaunt their special costumes and colourful bonnets. The person who leads the parade can be spotted holding Easter candle or cross in his/ her hand. A special dish for Easter springtime in USA is baked ham, potatoes and vegetables. Another most demanding recipe is hot cross buns. It was in the early 1700's, when for the first time, eggs were dyed and the credit for starting this practice in America can be attributed to Pennsylvania Dutch (German) settlers.

Some customs which hark back to traditions of other countries lend a great deal of colour to American life. The celebration of Mardi Gras - the day before the Christian season of Lent begins in late winter - is a tradition in New Orleans, a major southern city located in the state of Louisiana. The celebration, marked by a huge parade and much feasting, grew out of old French traditions, since Louisiana was once part of France's New World Empire.

In various places, other ethnic groups sponsor parades or other events of great interest, adding pageantry and merriment to American life. An example is St. Patrick's Day in the United States is a time of celebration for people of Irish descent and their friends. One of the biggest celebrations takes place in New York City, where a parade is held on the Irish patron saint's feast, March 17th.

In areas where Americans of Chinese descent live and especially in the Chinatown sections of New York City and San Francisco, California, people sponsor traditional Chinese New Year's celebrations with feasts, parades and fireworks.

African Americans have begun to observe Kwanzaa, a holiday based on the African celebration of the first harvest of the year, December 26th through January 1st. Developed in 1966, by a black studies professor at California State University, Maulana Karenga, Kwanzaa celebrates the unity and development of the African community.

Founded upon the 'Nguzo Saba' or the seven principles of unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith, Kwanzaa encourages African Americans to think about their African roots in addition to their present-day life in America. African Americans will exchange gifts as rewards for their achievements; and they will light the 'Mishumaa Saba' or seven candles to remind them of the seven principles which unite them.

Halloween, the last day of October, has a special significance for children, who dress in funny or ghostly costumes and knock on neighbourhood doors shouting 'Trick or Treat!' Pirates and princesses, ghosts and witches all hold bags open to catch the candy or other goodies that the neighbours drop in.

Since the 800's 1st November is a religious holiday known as All Saints' Day. The Mass that was said on this day was called Allhallowmas. The evening before became known as All Hallow e'en, or Halloween. Like some other American celebrations, its origins lie in both pre-Christian and Christian customs.

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 as 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.

Symbols of Halloween

Halloween is 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’s colors, probably because Halloween festivals and traditions took place at night. In the weeks before October 31st, 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-colored squash and orange has become the other traditional Halloween’s color. 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 Judgment 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!'

IV. OTHER CELEBRATIONS

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 state.

An other day which most Americans observe, even though it is not an official holiday, is February 14th, Valentine's Day, named after an early Christian martyr whose feast day was once observed on that day. On this day, Americans give special symbolic gifts to people they love. They also send special greeting cards called Valentines to such people. Most commonly, the gifts are candy or flowers.

Other holidays such as Groundhog Day, February 2nd, 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.

Flag Day is observed in the United States to commemorate the adoption of the Stars and Stripes by the Continental Congress on June 14th, 1777.

In XVIth century France, the start of the New Year was observed on April 1st. 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 1st. 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 1st. 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. Today Americans play small tricks on friends and strangers alike on the 1st 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 XIXth 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’s jokes are in good fun and not meant to harm anyone. The cleverest April Fool’s joke is the one where everyone laughs, especially the person upon whom the joke is played.

'The 1st of April is the day we remember what we are the other 364 days of the year.” said the American humorist Mark Twain.

On the second Sunday in May, American children of all ages treat their mothers to something special. It is the one day out of the year when children, young and old, try to show in a tangible way how much they appreciate their mothers. England was one of the first countries to set aside a day to recognize mothers. In the XVIIIth century when many people worked as household servants for the rich, 'Mothering Sunday' was reserved for them to return home to be with their mothers. Though this custom stopped when the Industrial Revolution altered the working and living patterns of the people, one Sunday for Mothers was established as a holiday in the XXth century.

In the United States, Mother's Day did not become an official holiday until 1915. On Mother's Day morning some American children follow the tradition of serving their mothers breakfast in bed. Other children will give their mothers gifts which they have made themselves or bought in stores. Adults give their mothers red carnations, the official Mother's Day flower. If their mothers are deceased they may bring white carnations to their grave sites. This is the busiest day of the year for American restaurants. On her special day, family members do not want Mom to cook dinner.

The United States is one of the few countries in the world that has an official day on which fathers are honoured by their children. On the third Sunday in June, fathers all across the United States are given presents, treated to dinner or otherwise made to feel special. The origin of Father's Day is not clear. Some say that it began with a church service in West Virginia in 1908. Others say the first Father's Day ceremony was held in Vancouver, Washington. Fathers had been honoured and recognized by their families throughout the country on the third Sunday in June. When children can't visit their fathers or take them out to dinner, they send a greeting card. Traditionally, fathers prefer greeting cards that are not too sentimental. Most greeting cards are whimsical so fathers laugh when they open them. Some give heartfelt thanks for being there whenever the child needed Dad.

V. CONCLUSIONS

The United States, like other nations, set aside a number of days each year to commemorate events, people or public occasions. These holidays are typically marked by a general suspension of work and business activity and by public and/ or religious ceremonies. Technically, the United States does not celebrate national holidays, but Congress has designated ten 'legal public holidays', during which most federal institutions are closed and most federal employees excused from work. Although the individual states and private businesses are not required to observe these, in practice all states and nearly all employers observe the majority of them.

 Even if recently dating, the American culture comprises a large variety of traditions and holidays. The American government instituted a certain number of official (legally accepted) holidays and events, but also permitting improvements, diversifications and enrichments according to the local conditions of each federal state. Each one of the 50 American states holds its own peculiarities in connection with their historical and cultural traditions leading to the emergence of some of the most original celebrations, festivities and fairs. The legally established American holidays, instituted by the federal government are being held by all of the American states and they recall outstanding events for all the Americans, regardless of their ethnic origin and for U.S.A. seen as a truly united country and sovereign state.

Nevertheless, a series of celebrations possesses a local restriction and limitation and they evoke various happenings or traditions imprinted upon a group of people across the time, being part of the daily life of some local communities, which didn’t have the opportunity to extend and develop at the federal level.

We can’t deny the fact that the U.S.A. is a country overwhelmingly constituted of the descendents of the European emigrants, in their vast majority of Anglo-Saxon ancestry, but also from many other European nations, such as the Spanish, Germans, Italians, Dutch, French, Portuguese and Slaves. Each of these ethnic groups have introduced and inserted into the American background culture most of their holidays, traditions, festivities, customs and fairs, many of them acquired with the passing of time distinct marks of originality or blended in a way or other. A significant contribution to the enrichment of the present American celebrations was granted by the recently Asian emigrants like Chinese, Indians, Koreans, Arabian and Muslims etc., who continued keeping their specific and characteristic religious or laic traditions. The descendents of the former African slaves also introduced various cultural influences from their rich ethnic African background.

In conclusion, we must admit the fact that the U.S.A. owns a very diverse, dynamic, swiftly evolving and rich treasure of multicultural celebrations, feasts, customs and holidays which grants it with a high originality and the capacity to influence many other nations of the world.

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