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American Holidays

Once I was very much interested in American holidays, comparing them to our Russian ones. So one of my American friends decided to help me and had sent a good text on that. Below the text is presented.

January 1, New Year's Day

We think about what we want to do differently and make New Year's resolutions that will begin on January 1. Lots of people resolve to improve their lives – by exercising, getting things done on time, learn a new skill, get a new job, or do better in school. This day in America is celebrated by the viewing of many (4 or more) football games in the playoffs to find out the best college team of the year.

New Year's Eve (December 31 at night) is a time of celebration with parties of friends or family. Many dates go to movies that night. At 12 midnight, there are special celebrations in New York in Times Square which are featured on television. Many people kiss everyone at the party at midnight. Sometimes fireworks on set off by individuals (usually kids) at midnight. Many businesses close early on this day in preparation for the evening festivities.

January, third Monday, Martin Luther King Day

Martin Luther King was a black minister, an activist for civil rights (in the 1960s), and a passionate believe in non-violent action for social change. He believed that violence was never justified and that it only caused more violence; he believed that people should disobey laws that were unjust, as long as they were willing to accept the legal consequences (such as a fine or jail term) of that disobedience; and he believed that voting was the most powerful way to make changes happen.

In 1963, as part of the civil rights movement (blacks getting the same privileges as whites), he organized a demonstration called “the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom”. Here he gave a famous speech called “I Have a Dream”: “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed… We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal… When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, we are free at last!”

This became an official holiday in 1983. All government offices, banks, and schools are closed. Businesses are usually open on this day.

February 14, Valentine's Day

This holiday which is especially popular in the United States, England, France, and Canada is all about love. It was named after St. Valentine who was a Christian who was imprisoned by the Romans in 270 A.D. because he would not give up his Christian beliefs. The daughter of his jailer became his friend, and Valentine wrote her a note before he was executed and signed it “your Valentine”.

This is the time especially to send a card (often decorated with hearts and ribbons) to the one you love. Besides this card (which is sometimes sent anonymously, that is, you sign it without your name), we often send cards to other people we love – parents, relatives, and friends.

Giving your heart to someone meant giving him or her the most important part of yourself. Ribbons for decoration came from the times when knights competed in tournaments in the Middle Ages. The knight's sweetheart often gave him a ribbon as a token of her love; the knight attached it to his lance for good luck. Lace is also shown on Valentine's cards showing romantic and sentimental tendencies. Flowers (often red roses) are sent to young ladies in America from their boyfriends.

February, third Monday, President's Day

This day honors two of America's best-known and beloved presidents, George Washington (first president) and Abraham Lincoln (in office during the Civil War in the 1860s). For many years we celebrated the birthday of each of these presidents on different days in February. It has now been combined.

Both of these men held strong beliefs about freedom, justice, and the importance of standing up for what they believed was right. Their obvious fairmindedness helped each of them to bring together all kinds of very different people. But the quality they are both best know for is integrity.

All government, banks, and schools are closed on this day. Most commercial businesses are open. Some of the large department stores hold special sales on this day (while so many people are on holiday this day).

March 17, St. Patrick's Day

St. Patrick was born in England who was born around 389 A.D. and probably died in 461 A.D. While he was a teenager in England, he was captured by raiders from Ireland who took him there and sold him into slavery.

Unlike England and much of the rest of Europe, Ireland was inhabited by small tribes of people who couldn't read or write and who practiced an ancient form of religion under leaders called Druids. Patrick escaped from Ireland, but he vowed to return. He studied in European monasteries and after several years was sent back to Ireland as a bishop. There he spent the rest of his life teaching the people of Ireland to read and write while converting them to Christianity.

Instead of attempting to stamp out ancient rites, Patrick tried to combine old customs with new meanings. Still, his life was in constant danger because there were always people who didn't want change. However, as time went on he was loved more and more. When he died, all of Ireland went into mourning.

On this day, no businesses are closed. Instead, especially for the Americans who have Irish heritage, it is time for great celebrations – with parties, drinking beer, and having a lot of fun. Those of us not of Irish descent, often have a meal of corned beef and cabbage. Green is the color or Ireland so we wear green clothes, green jewelry, and have green decorations.

March or April, Sunday, Easter

The day that Christ was risen from the dead. Celebrated by Christians around the world. Businesses are closed. Families celebrate with feasts of lots of food. There are often Easter egg hunts (or colored hard-boiled eggs) and the eating of much Easter candy (particularly chocolate).

May, second Sunday, Mother's Day

This is happy celebration when people remember their mothers and express their appreciation for everything their mothers have done for them. The custom of honoring mothers is centuries old and can be traced in England as far back as the 1600s. This became an official holiday in 1914.

In many other places, such ad Denmark, Finland, Italy, Turkey, Australia, and Belgium, Mother's Day is celebrated on the second Sunday in May. Different dates are set for a similar holiday in other countries.

May, last Monday, Memorial Day

Memorial Day began as a tribute to those who had died in the Civil War. But as the United States lost soldiers in later wars, those war dead were included in the ceremonies. Today people have parades on this day as well as decorate their family graves as well. This is a day off from work. Because the weather is much warmer by this time, it is also a good time to have a picnic or a barbecue with relatives and friends.

June, third Sunday, Father's Day

This is a day to honor fathers – not just fathers, but any man who has acted as a father figure (stepfathers, uncles, grandfathers, and adult male friends). This is held on a Sunday when nearly everyone is off from work. These men are sent cards and usually invited by their children to a meal, a restaurant, or a special place meaningful to the family. Other relatives are usually included also in the celebration.

July 4, Independence Day

The reason for this holiday is the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. The Fourth of July is a noisy, joyous celebration. Most towns have Fourth of July parades with bands, marching community groups, and lots of flags. Families have picnics and barbecues. Everyone has a lot of fun – particularly with fireworks. Many areas have banned private fireworks (so many people get burned or hurt), so instead cities usually have a big fireworks displays that all the citizens can watch.

St. Louis has (I believe) the second largest fireworks display in the United States – right through the Gateway Arch on the Mississippi River. The fireworks of great magnitude are set off from barges in the river (eliminates the problem of people being nearby and possible fire). Hundreds of thousands of St. Louisans as well as visitors spend time at a 3-day party under the Gateway Arch and at 9:40 p.m. are treated to a glorious fireworks celebration with patriotic music in the background.

September, first Monday, Labor Day

This holiday celebrates those who work. It is close to the time when school has begun (most schools in St. Louis now begin the last week in August) and it signals the end of summer. Many people travel by car to vacation locations as the “last fling” of the year.

October 12, Columbus Day

The is a day off from school to celebrate the life of Christopher Columbus who discovered America. Actually he was not looking for America, he was looking for a western route to Asia and believed he had landed in Asia when he got here. His reports of what he had found prompted many others to said west from Europe because his voyages had truly opened a new world to Europeans and hanged the course of history.

This is a holiday for students, but almost all businesses are open. Sometimes the stores have special sales on this day.

October 31, Halloween

For children in the United States, Halloween m3ans trick-or-treating and wearing costumes and having a lot of fun.

In ancient times the Celts, who lived in what are now England, Ireland, and northern France, celebrated the festival of Samhain (pronounced “sah-wen”) at this time of year. It was the night before their new year began, and it marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter's cold. The Celts believed that on this night witches and ghosts roamed around and that the souls of dead people came back to visit the places where they had lived. Hugh bonfires were lit to scare away the witches, while food and lanterns were put out to make the dead souls feel at home.

Later, Roman conquerors combined their own festival to honor the dead with the celebration of Samhain. When the Catholic Church decided in the 800s to make November 2 a holy day called All Saints or all Hallows Day, the evening of the day before became all Hallows Eve. Though the church tried to discourage the old ideas, people still clung to the belief that dead souls were in the air on that night. That's probably why ghosts are part of the lore of Halloween today.

Even as Christianity became more widespread, some of the old pagan beliefs and customs lingered on. In Ireland especially, people thought that ghosts and spirits roamed after dark on Halloween. They lit candles or lanterns to keep the spirits away, and if they had to go outside, they wore costumes made to frighten the spirits or to keep from being recognized by their unearthly beings.

The Irish were also the inventors of the trick-or-treat idea. Centuries ago groups of villagers in Ireland went from house to house on Halloween to beg for food for a community feast. (No one wanted to be alone on this scary night.) Those who gave generously were promised a prosperous year, while those who were stingy were threatened with all kinds of troubles. It wasn't until many Irish people came to the United States in the 1800s that Halloween became really popular here. In fact, Ireland is the only place where Halloween is a national holiday.

The phrase “Trick or treat!” means “Give me a treat or I'll play a trick on you”. Some pranks were drawing on people's windows with soap or greasing the doorknob of someone's house so it would be impossible to turn.

In recent years, many children have gone trick-or-treating for the United Nationals Children's Fund (UNICEF). This agency raises money to help children all over the world, especially where there is great need. Boxes are passed out in schools and children ask for coins for UNICEF along with treats for themselves.

Jack-o'-lanterns, the carved pumpkins that symbolize Halloween, came from an old Irish legend about a man called Jack who tricked the devil. As a punishment, the devil made him walk through the world forever. Some versions of the story say that the devil gave Jack a burning coal and Jack put it inside the turnip he was eating, to make a lantern to light his way. Placing a candle inside a hollowed and carved turnip became a popular Halloween custom and people still do this today in Ireland and other parts of Europe But turnips aren't so easy to carve. People in the United States found it much simpler to use large pumpkins for their jack-o'-lantern.

This celebration is for children, but they are not out of school for this event. Instead, they can often dress in costumes on October 31 and have a party with cakes and candy at school. When it turns dark that day, they go out in costumes from door-to-door in their neighborhood to collect candy bars and other treats from neighbors. The colors of Halloween are orange (pumpkins) and black (witches and cats).

November 11, Veterans Day

Originally called Armistice Day, this holiday commemorated the ending of World War I on November 11, 1918. This war, which was called the Great War, had one of the highest casualty rates in history.

When the armistice, or truce, was signed on November 11 and the soldiers laid down their weapons and began coming home, the whole world signed with relief. Everyone hoped there would never be such a terrible and bloody war again. People wanted to remembers the ending of that horrible conflict and began celebrating to remind themselves of the price we all pay for war and of their hopes that there would never be another.

But of course there was another world war and another peace settlement. It then became a day not only to honor those who had lost their lives in World War I but also to honor all those who have served in the Armed Forces of the United States.

Today this is a day off for government offices and schools. Most other businesses are open – and sometimes that they have special sales that day.

November, fourth Thursday, Thanksgiving Day

The first American Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621, the year after the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. This first celebration was especially important to the new settlers and to American history. Without that good fall harvest and the advice and help of Native Americans (Indians) who told them which crops would do well, the Pilgrims would not have survived.

About 50 Pilgrims and about 90 Indians were at the first Thanksgiving feast. Wild turkeys, which were found only in North America, were the main course. Ever since, turkey has been the traditional Thanksgiving food. We also often survive cranberries and pumpkin pie.

Besides being thankful for a turkey dinner with your family and friends, it is time to also pause to think of others things you are thankful for. Thanksgiving is a good day to think over the pluses in your life and let people know you appreciate them.

Businesses are closed. Families are together for these giant feasts.

December 25, Christmas

The celebration of Christ's birth is celebrated throughout all of Christianity. This is a holiday for everyone. Families usually get together for scrumptious feasts. Gifts are given between family members. Part of the celebration can also take place on Christmas Eve (December 24). Some businesses are closed part or all of Christmas Eve in preparation for these feasts.

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