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United States Holidays Window on America Center Kirovohrad Oblast Research Library Named After Chizhevsky Country Study Series Karin N. Jones Community Development Volunteer, Peace Corps Ukraine


Introduction •

The United States does not have national holidays on which all employees in the U.S. receive a day free from work and all business is halted. − The U.S. federal government can only recognize national holidays for its own employees. − Each state or local jurisdiction determines whether to recognize federal holidays (most do).

All malls, shopping centers and most other retail businesses close only on Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas days, but remain open on all other holidays (half day on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, and sometimes on other major holidays).

Private businesses often observe only the “big seven” holidays (New Year’s Day, Easter, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas). − Some also add the Friday after Thanksgiving, religious holidays such as Good Friday, or one or more of the other federal/state holidays.


New Year’s Day – January 1 •

Celebrates beginning of the Gregorian calendar year.

People celebrate New Year’s by attending parties and staying awake until midnight on New Year’s Eve.

At midnight on New Year’s Eve, party goers blow noisemakers, throw confetti, and kiss their partner.

Some cities have firework displays.

Times Square in New York City has a famous New Year’s countdown just before midnight. − At exactly midnight a large ball covered with lights slides down a pole.

Many people make New Year’s Resolutions. − The most popular New Year’s resolutions is to go on a diet and start exercising. Other popular New Year’s resolutions are stop smoking, save money, spend more time with family members, call or write your relatives, get a new job, start school, and learn a new language.


Martin Luther King, Jr. Day •

Celebrated on the third Monday in January.

Honors Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Teachers give lessons about the history of slavery in the United States, the Civil War, the Civil Rights Movement, and the philosophy and teachings of Dr. King.

News programs play videos of Dr. King’s famous ”I Have a Dream” speech.

Civil rights leaders attend forums to discuss the progress and current status of minority rights in the United States and the influence Dr. King had on them and the American legal and political system.


Groundhog Day – February 2 •

Not a federal holiday – recognition of folklore.

The folklore is that if the groundhog comes out of its hole and sees its shadow then there will be six more weeks of winter weather. − But if the groundhog comes out of its hole and doesn’t see its shadow, then there will be an early spring.

Many people gather each year in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to see Punxsutawney Phil, the most famous groundhog in the United States.


Presidents Day •

Celebrated on the third Monday of February.

Honors George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and all the other presidents.

In the middle of February, grade schools have assemblies, concerts, and plays about Presidents Washington and Lincoln.

Some stores have special Presidents Day sales and many towns have patriotic parades or assemblies.


Valentine’s Day – February 14 •

Not a federal holiday.

Special day to celebrate love and friendship.

People give cards, candy, and flowers to the people they love.

School children sign Valentine’s Day cards and bring them to school for their classmates.

Adults listen to romantic music, write love letters to each other, and go out for romantic dinners.

Popular Valentine’s Day symbols include red and pink hearts, bows and arrows, and Cupid.


St. Patrick’s Day - March 17 •

Not a federal holiday.

Irish holiday that is celebrated by people from many different countries.

People celebrate it by wearing green, watching parades, and eating corned beef.

Clovers are symbols of Saint Patrick’s Day. − It is believed that if you find a four leaf clover, you will have good luck.

The city of Chicago dyes its river green for Saint Patrick’s Day.


Easter •

Celebrated on a Sunday between March 22 and April 25.

On Easter, people color eggs, have an Easter egg hunt, wear new clothes, watch parades, and eat dinner with their family and friends.

Ham is a traditional Easter dish.


Memorial Day •

Celebrated on the last Monday in May. − It was first observed after the American Civil War.

Honors soldiers who died serving their country.

Friends and relatives visit cemeteries to put wreaths, flags, and flowers on the graves of soldiers.

People wear poppies to remember soldiers who have died in service.

The President gives a speech and lays a wreath in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Some cities have parades or special services at local cemeteries.


Independence Day – July 4 •

Our most important national holiday because it celebrates the Declaration of Independence.

The Declaration of Independence announced America’s independence from Britain. − It was adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Parades, parties, and barbecues are popular activities on this day.

Cities have fireworks displays to celebrate our nation’s birthday.


Labor Day •

Celebrated on the first Monday in September.

Holiday to honor working people.

Marks the end of summer vacation for many students.

Celebrated in the United States with parades, picnics, festivals, and sports.


Columbus Day •

Celebrated on the second Monday in October.

Recognizes the 1492 landing of Christopher Columbus on San Salvador Island in the Bahamas.

Columbus was not the first European to visit America, but his visit led to the Spanish colonization of the area, which encouraged other European countries to also colonize the area.

Today, the holiday is controversial. − The arrival of Columbus and the European colonization that followed led to a genocide of the native population. − Many native people were killed, enslaved, committed suicide or died from European diseases.


Halloween – October 31 •

Not a federal holiday.

Children wear costumes and go trick-or-treating. They knock on doors and say ”Trick or treat.” The person who opens the door gives the children candy.

Some adults wear costumes to work and attend parties.

Orange and black are popular Halloween colors.

On Halloween, people cut faces on pumpkins and put candles inside of them. This is called a jack-o’ lantern.


Veterans Day – November 11 •

Veterans Day is intended to thank living Veterans for their service and to acknowledge that their contributions to our national security are appreciated.

Many people confuse Memorial Day and Veterans Day. − Both holidays were established to recognize and honor the men and women who have worn the uniform of the United States Armed Forces. − Memorial Day was originally set aside as a day for remembering and honoring military personnel who died in the service of their country.


Thanksgiving •

Celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November.

The first holiday celebrated in America.

First celebrated in the autumn of 1621 when the Wampanoag people and the pilgrims got together for a three-day feast and festival of fun.

Today, families celebrate Thanksgiving by eating turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, yams, corn, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie.

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and an NFL football game are special Thanksgiving Day events.


Christmas – December 25 •

Christian holiday, but it is also observed by many non-religious people who participate in its secular traditions.

People celebrate Christmas by singing carols, sending cards, and giving gifts.

Symbols of Christmas include nativity scenes, Christmas trees, wreaths, holly, Santa Claus, reindeer, and the colors red and green.

Goodwill, compassion and peace are the values promoted this time of year.

About 35 million Christmas trees are sold in the United States each year.


Other Holidays •

February − Chinese New Year

March − Mardi Gras

April − April Fool’s Day − Earth Day − Arbor Day

May − Cinco de Mayo − Mother’s Day

June − Father’s Day

September − Constitution Day

December − Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day − Kwanzaa


Major Religious Holidays Observed by Americans •

Christian − Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, Palm Sunday, Advent

Jewish − Purim, Passover, Yom HaShoah, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Simchat Torah, Shavuot, Tisha B’Av, Hanukkah

Muslim − Ramadan, Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha


Thank you for reading this country study on United States Holidays!


United States Holidays