Holidays in the United States of America
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MINISTRY OF EDUCATION AND SCIENCE OF UKRAINE
M. P. DRAGOMANOV NATIONAL PEDAGOGICAL UNIVERSITY
Foreign languages department
Holidays in the United States of America
1. Introduction (Only names)
2. New Year’s Day
3. Martin Luther King’s Day
4. President’s Day
5. Thanksgiving Day
7. St. Valentine’s Day
8. April Fool’s Day
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 followingholidays per year are proclaimed by the federal government.
New Year’s Day
Martin Luther King Day
third Monday in January
third Monday in February
last Monday in May
first Monday in September
second Monday in October
fourth Thursday in November
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 Veterans' Day.
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 schedules
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)
the last Friday in April (since 1872)
second Sunday in May
third Sunday in June
fourth Sunday in July
Sunday after Labor Day
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 midnight.
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 (Заключенывтюрьму) by the police. After 382 Days of boycotting the bus system, the Supreme Court declared that the Alabama state segregation law was unconstitutional.
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!
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 that old Negro spiritual, «Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, we are free at last!»
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 's death did not slow the Civil Rights Movement. Black and white people continued to fight for freedom and equality. Coretta Scott King is the widow (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.
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.
4. Presidents' Day
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 America.
«…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 voyage»
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 (уничтожениерабства). 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.
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.
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 his country. «
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.
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 (уйтивотставку) to his beautiful family home, Mount Vernon.
Various communities observe the holiday by staging pageants (организациейпарадов) 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 or school.
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 architect.
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 final design.
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 of Virginia.
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.
5. Thanksgiving Day
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. 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 Patuxetswere a peaceful group and did not prove to be a threat.
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 Christmas.
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. 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 ones. 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 relatives.
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 and goodies.
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
7. 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?
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 popular saints.
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.
8. April Fool’s Day
«The first of April is the day we remember
what we are the other 364 days of the year. «
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!)
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.
public holiday сulture america
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 Hakkiwe’en, or Halloween. Like some other American celebrations, its origins lie in both pre-Christian and Christian customs.
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.
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 some company. «
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 shook.
«What do I come for?» he said. «I come for YOU!»
The narrator shouts and jumps at the person near him!
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.
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